Where you live impacts heart health

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Where you live in Ontario can have a major impact on your heart health. The CANHEART research group wants to change that, and we need your help.

Cardiovascular events such as heart attacks or stroke remain a leading cause of disability and death in Canada. A recent Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) study showed that where you live has a big effect on your risk of cardiovascular disease, also known as heart disease. In fact, the study showed that people living in some health regions of Ontario were twice as likely to experience a heart attack or stroke, or to die from heart disease, compared to those in other regions.

The study team found that differences in heart risk were due to differences in cardiovascular-related health behaviours such as smoking, as well as to demographic characteristics like one’s ethnic background. In addition, people living in areas of Ontario with the highest risk of heart disease were actually less likely to receive certain preventive health services such as getting tested for high cholesterol.

High cholesterol is known to be a very important risk factor for heart disease. Worryingly, some people in Ontario have not been tested for it and many people who are identified to be at high risk for heart disease are not receiving or taking the recommended treatment as outlined in Canadian guidelines.

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However, an exciting new initiative is working to change that. The research group spearheading the project is called the CArdiovascular HEalth in Ambulatory Care Research Team (CANHEART) (www.canheart.ca), a dedicated team of 30+ researchers, clinicians, policy makers and patients that was formed to help understand and improve the quality of cardiovascular care in Ontario. The team is based in Toronto, Ontario at Sunnybrook Hospital and ICES, with research affiliations with universities and hospitals throughout the province.

In order to ensure better heart health for all Ontarians, the CANHEART team is now working to develop and test interventions that will improve preventive care. Funded by a grant from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) and Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research (SPOR), the CANHEART team has launched an exciting new trial called CHOICES (Community Heart Outcomes Improvement and Cholesterol Education Study).

CHOICES will target Ontario health regions with higher rates of heart disease, developing decision-support “tools” to inform and empower people when it comes to the appropriate management of their cholesterol and cardiovascular health. These tools, such as cholesterol tip sheets, educational videos and decision aids, will be widely distributed in the high-risk health regions, to allow people to work with their family physicians and share in the decision making process together. The team hopes to identify whether these tools will help improve cholesterol management and prevent heart disease.  At the study’s conclusion, CANHEART will make any needed updates and then will work with their partners such as the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada to have all of the tools publicly available for wide and ongoing use.

Patient engagement is key to the CHOICES project.  The unique and diverse perspectives that patients bring, based on their own treatment experiences in the healthcare system are of great value and help to ensure that research findings are relevant to patients and their families.

In the spirit of patients as partners in the team’s research, a patient partner panel has been formed to help guide the project. The purpose of the panel is to provide the public an important seat at the research table to share their lived experiences with managing cholesterol, as well as to provide important feedback and actively contribute to the project such as helping the study team develop cholesterol educational material and to determine which outcomes are most important to patients’ heart care.

To foster meaningful collaboration and dialogue, panel members will be invited to attend and participate in ongoing teleconferences, online chat discussions with the project team, and in annual study investigator meetings. All partner panel members are provided an honorarium for their time.

The CANHEART study team is continuing to look for people from a variety of backgrounds and experiences who are interested in joining the patient partner panel to improve cardiovascular health. They must be Ontario residents between 40-75 years of age who have at least one of the following qualifications:

  • One or more major cardiovascular risk factors (e.g., high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or family history),
  • Have ever had a heart attack or stroke,
  • Have ever undergone a cardiac procedure (e.g., bypass surgery, angioplasty).

If you would like to learn more about CHOICES or are interested in joining the patient partner panel to improve heart health in Ontario, please email our team at canheart@ices.on.ca or visit http://www.canheart.ca/clinicaltrials/.

This article was submitted on behalf of the CANHEART investigators.