Putting Our Heart into Improving Heart Health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. Every year, 1 in 4 deaths is caused by heart disease. At AHRQ, we partner with health care professionals, policymakers, and the American public to find ways to improve heart health care.
AHRQ is dedicated to making health care safer, higher quality, and more affordable, accessible, and equitable. We accomplish this in three ways—by providing data and measures to help policymakers and health systems know where health care is improving and where more work is needed; by conducting delivery system research to create new evidence about how to improve health and health care; and by developing tools and training to ensure that this evidence is understood and used.
In recognition of American Heart Month, I’d like to highlight a few examples of AHRQ’s contributions to heart health in all three areas.
- It is hard to improve, if you don’t look for gaps—Data and Measures
AHRQ produces the National Quality Report, a comprehensive snapshot of how our health system is performing with a special focus on how we are (and are not) reducing health care disparities. The report documents how we as a nation have made great progress in preventing death from heart attacks. For example, between 2000 and 2012 we cut the number of people who die in the hospital after having a heart attack in half. However, we have more work to do in preventing heart attacks. For instance, almost 50 percent of people with high blood pressure do not have it under control. Data like these led to the Department of Health and Human Services to launch Million Hearts®, a national initiative to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes by 2017.
- Discovering how to improve the health care system--Research
As a research agency with a focus on health service delivery, AHRQ invests in discovering how the health care system works and how it can work better. For example, AHRQ-funded researchers from Wayne State University in Detroit are exploring how to use text messaging to empower African Americans to take control of their high blood pressure. In another example, AHRQ awarded a grant to researchers at the University of Iowa to investigate the best care options for older Americans after a heart attack, with a focus on preventing a second heart attack.
- Translating evidence into practice—Tools and Training
Even though we are a research agency, at AHRQ we know that research results must be put into practice before they can help anyone. That is why one focus of our mission is to ensure that our research is both understood and used by health care professionals and systems. Through AHRQ’s Eisenberg Center, AHRQ produces evidence guides for both clinicians and patients based on the latest available evidence. For example, a recent evidence report for health care professionals examines the effectiveness and safety of newer medications for stroke prevention in people who have atrial fibrillation. Consumer summaries are available on topics such as choosing a high blood pressure medication. AHRQ also provides scientific support to the independent U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which has published many important recommendations for preventing heart attacks and strokes, including high blood pressure screening and smoking cessation and is currently in the process of developing new recommendations on statin use and aspirin to prevent heart disease.
In support of the national Million Hearts® initiative and to ensure that evidence is understood and used, in 2015, AHRQ launched EvidenceNOW. This 3-year project will work with over 1500 primary care practices across the United States to assist them in using the latest evidence to improve the heart health of the over 8 million people they serve.
During American Heart Month it is good to remember that there are important things we can do as individuals to improve our heart health and reduce our risk for heart disease. In addition to eating a healthy diet and being physically active, we can manage our risk factors by controlling high blood pressure, managing high cholesterol, and quitting smoking. And here at AHRQ we will continue to work throughout the year with data, evidence, tools, and partners to improve the safety and quality of the health care system so that when we need it, the health care system is prepared to care for us and our hearts.
Page originally created February 2016