If you’re like me and almost everyone else in the US, you almost certainly have a family history of heart disease. It’s almost inevitable. It is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, according to the 2017 National Center for Health Statistics.

My Personal family history includes heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. My father has had high blood pressure and high cholesterol for 50 plus years. He also has had open heart surgery in 2014. Knowing this, there are important steps I can take to help prevent high blood pressure and lower my risk for heart disease.

Tens of millions of adults in the U.S. have high blood pressure, and many do not know they have it. That’s what it is called the silent killer! Also known as hypertension (HTN), it usually has no symptoms, and the only way to get diagnosed is to visit your healthcare provider. If left untreated there is an 80 percent chance patients could die within a year.

The exact cause of HTN is unknown, but several things may increase your risk. That’s why it is important to know your risk factors, as there are some you can control and some you cannot. Some medical conditions can raise your risk for high blood pressure. Fortunately, you can take steps to lower your risk by changing the factors you can control.

My dad is a prime example that it can be done. He’s doing fine now at the age of 86, but has had to learn to control his blood pressure and cholesterol through medications, diet and exercise. That is one of the first steps.

Start living a healthy lifestyle by keeping yourself at a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, control sodium and saturated fat intake, being physically active, not smoking and limiting how much alcohol you drink, can all help.

Albert Einstein is widely attributed as saying “The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same things and expecting different results”. We can’t expect improved outcomes for our patients unless we are willing to make changes to our systems of care. But, how can we know what changes to make?

The Millions Hearts Campaign has put together a comprehensive, evidence-based package for health centers and clinics to use for HTN control and management. This change package focuses on recommendations and changes that are most significant for the treatment of patients with high blood pressure. It is important that health care practices put systems in place to manage and care for patients with hypertension.

North Shores, a primary care organization in northern Indiana, used the change package as a guide. The organization used data to flag patients who were at risk for heart disease by identifying adults who were not diagnosed with hypertension but had a high blood pressure reading during their last visit to the clinic. The North Shore’s care team followed up with those patients and invited them to come in for a free blood pressure check. As a result some patients were found to have dangerously high blood pressure readings, some were prescribed medications and others their readings were normal.

One of the focus areas in this change package is to implement a policy to address blood pressure for every patient at every visit. This is an area in the Key Foundations section which helps to identify potentially undiagnosed HTN.

Patient self-monitoring of blood pressure can be found in the Equipping Care Teams section and is valuable in monitoring HTN. This is just one of many resources that can be found in this section.

In Population Health Management continues with identifying patients with potentially undiagnosed HTN. This section has different tools to proactively monitor and manage HTN. Using data to drive quality improvement and finding those patients with potentially undiagnosed HTN.

The last section, Individual Patient Support, individualizes patient care approaches with materials to help educate the patient on HTN and the management of this diagnosis.

There are so many useful tools and resources to assist you in your quality improvement efforts. Over the following months, we will highlight additional change ideas that are included in the change package in this blog.

But, you don’t have to wait!

Contact Qsource for a consultation about implementing one or more concepts from the change package or explore the change package yourself on The Million Hearts website.