patient and doctor

Teaching patients to manage their own heart health should move beyond brochures and a doctor’s office visit to a more comprehensive approach that individualizes care, according to a scientific statement released Monday by the American Heart Association.

The statement, published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, encourages healthcare providers to use a multi-faceted approach to help patients and their families learn healthy habits after a heart attack or if they have high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation or heart failure.

“As hospital stays and clinic visits get shorter, the responsibility for patient management has increasingly shifted to patients and their families,” said Susan Barnason, Ph.D., R.N., the statement’s lead author and a professor of nursing practice at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Lincoln.

“Patient education can’t be one-size-fits-all. It needs to meet the patients where they are, so clinicians need to assess their patients’ health literacy and cognitive skills, and include family and other caregivers when needed.”

For example, a regular follow-up call from a nurse could help a patient struggling to make healthy lifestyle choices. Registered dietitians or health coaches can help patients overcome barriers to healthy lifestyle changes. Nurses can provide brief self-management support and training for patients in regular medical visits.

“Tell your provider if you don’t understand your condition or you are unclear about the plan to help you manage it,” Barnason said. “Your physician may schedule an extended or follow-up visit, or may ask the nurse to answer your immediate questions.”

Technological advances, such as video conferencing and apps to measure and monitor blood pressure or track medication, may make it easier for patients to monitor their health and communicate the results with their healthcare providers.

“We can’t make you take your pills or check your blood pressure or blood sugar,” Barnason said. “Some of the new technologies help it become more real — instead of just putting numbers on a piece of paper you can see the trends and get a better picture of how you’re doing.”