Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Do on-line health assessments really work?

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Maybe the American Heart Association knows that some of us can’t resist a chance to show that we are special.

Its on-line heart health assessment tool, called Life’s Simple 7, can determine if you have something called ideal cardiovascular health. Less than 1% of the population meets the criteria, and I couldn’t wait to find out if I was part of the genetically elite.

I never earned a Presidential Physical Fitness award as a kid. It took me until my senior year in high school to get my varsity letter, and I never made it beyond the B league in ALTA. But, earning the ideal cardiovascular health label could make up for all that. After all, I eat fruit and flax seed for breakfast, and I put in thousands of meters a week on my stationary rower. I want my 48-year-old body to be known for something special before it is too late.

Whether or not others are drawn to take the test for the same reason as me isn’t clear, but something is making them do it. The tool has been launched more than 181,000 times since first made available in 2010. The AHA is using the web-based tool as part of an effort to improve cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20% by 2020. The idea is that people who take the assessment will follow up with the AHA for more information on how to improve.

On-line health assessments provide consumers with a convenient and private way to learn if they have a risk that requires professional medical help. Google shows more than 57 million results for “free on-line health assessments.”

Are they worthwhile?

“I think that they have clinical value,” says Dr. Mark L. Cohen, Chief of Quality, Informatics and Research for the Piedmont Heart Institute. “With just some basic information, all known to the patient, it is possible to give a fairly accurate probability of having a ‘coronary event’ in the next 10 years.”

Piedmont Heart Institute has on-line assessment tools to detect risk of heart disease (HeartAware) and sleep disorders (SleepAware). People who learn they are at risk can follow up with medical professionals to determine next steps for diagnosis and treatment. It has been Piedmont’s experience that about two-thirds of those determined to be at-risk follow up for additional information.

As Dr. Cohen points out, one of the positive aspects of on-line health assessments is that people actually choose to use them, so it is a first step in taking a more active role with their own healthcare.

Perhaps many of us are taking these assessments to learn if we are in the same cardiovascular subset as Navy Seals, Michael Phelps, and tireless spinning instructors.

It turns out that I am not. While my scores on the lifestyle questions are strong, I was dinged by my borderline high blood pressure and a total cholesterol reading that stubbornly stays just above 200. My overall score is 7.9 out of 10, hardly ideal cardiovascular health.

While I am disappointed not to have ideal cardiovascular health, the results of the test are a good reminder to eat better and continue to measure by blood pressure daily. Perhaps others who take the test in hopes of claiming ideal cardiovascular health will also come away with a few tips on how to be healthier.

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One Comment

  1. Posted September 25, 2011 at 12:48 am | Permalink

    I’m afraid that I fall into another regrettably large group: those that aren’t sure we want to know;-) But seriously, while I know that this same semi-blissful ignorance can be hazardous to my health, I just can’t seem to find the motivation to find out that I need more: i.e., more motivation to adhere to the more “diet and exercise” regime that will doubtless be prescribed. What’s a mother to do?

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“Hi, I’m Ed Lovern, the executive vice president and chief administrative officer for Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta. I created this blog to share my thoughts on the healthcare revolution and how we can all be part of the solution. Feel free to comment or email me your thoughts – I would love to have your contributions and feedback.”
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