By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

ANAHEIM, California — If you’re researching the best ways for doctors to diagnose and treat high blood pressure, it’s important for top cardiovascular experts to exhaustively analyze the best available scientific studies.

It’s also important to invite people from outside the scientific system, people who know what it’s like when high blood pressure and its aftermath hits home. And that’s how Karen J. Collins came to help write a short but vital section of the new blood pressure guidelines released Monday.

The 54-year-old management consultant from Chicago has been volunteering with the American Heart Association for about a decade. When she was first asked to pitch in at the AHA, it was an easy “yes” because she already was attracted to the organization’s message.

“My dad had an aortic valve replacement in 1993 at age 52,” she said “That was my orientation to matters of the heart. While already having a pretty good exercise routine, I became focused on my lifestyle and learned of cardiovascular risks and prevention. I purchased heart-healthy cookbooks, so I could prepare meals responsibly for my dad during his visits and ultimately embraced and adopted the recipes for myself.”

As soon as she joined the writing committee for the blood pressure guideline created by the AHA and several other medical groups, she knew it was going to take a steep time commitment – and that she was going to be surrounded with dedicated experts.

“I was delighted and enthralled by how thoughtful the committee members were, the level of detail and the cross-pollination of specialties,” said Collins, who is on the AHA’s board of directors for the Midwest Affiliate. “Ultimately, my contribution was how would I interpret the guideline if I was reading it as a patient or family member.”

And that was the approach she took to the section that recommends doctors look at ways to support patients who might not always have resources at their fingertips, and who don’t always remember or communicate doctor’s instructions to their families.

It helped that Collins had experienced some of that with her own parents, who live in a different area. When they have a medical appointment, she types up questions for them and always makes sure to be in on conference calls when they are with the doctor.

“For those who may be anxious or do not remember what the doctor said or what they were supposed to do, they can ask the doctor to record their discussion, instructions and required follow-up. That would be very helpful,” she said.

The guideline suggests just that: “Today, mobile phones have a recording option. For patients with mobile phones, the phone can be utilized to ‘inform’ patients and family members of medical instructions following the doctor’s visit as an additional level of communication.”

Here are a couple of other highlights in the guideline’s caregiver section:

— Every adult with hypertension should have “a detailed and current evidence-based plan of care” that manages their condition, along with other conditions that might impact blood pressure, as well as timely medical follow-ups.

— Local partnerships can help high blood pressure patients, especially those with lower incomes, meet treatment goals by providing social and community resources they need. “Additional financial support and financial services are incredibly beneficial to patients, who may otherwise consider or choose to skip a doctor’s appointment in order to pay a residential utility bill.”

Collins, who volunteers with several organizations and runs her own consulting company, Collins Collaboration, said she was encouraged “by the diverse groups of individuals involved in researching, investigating and writing the blood pressure guidelines.”

“We really tried to be thoughtful of those from multicultural groups, those who were under-represented, and those from many socioeconomic perspectives,” she said.

If you have questions or comments about this story, please email editor@heart.org.