New report reveals gap in access to heart treatment

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New modelling released by the Heart Foundation and supported by Sanofi shows a significant gap in the number of high-risk Australians being treated for high blood pressure and cholesterol.

The foundation said the modelling shows closing this gap could prevent more than 103,000 heart attacks, strokes and heart-related deaths and save almost $1.8 billion in healthcare costs over the next five years.

It reveals that 1.8 million Australian adults are not being prescribed the recommended blood pressure-lowering and lipid-lowering therapy to manage their risk of heart attack and stroke.

It also shows that treating all patients at high risk of heart attack and stroke over the next five years would allow Australians to gain an extra 45,580 years lived in good health.

According to the Heart Foundation’s risk reduction manager Natalie Raffoul, the findings are a wake-up call for the community, health professionals and government about the number of Australians missing out on guideline-recommended treatment. 

“This modelling reinforces data that shows that high-risk people are consistently missing out on life-saving pharmacological therapy. To tackle this issue, we need a more systematic approach to absolute cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk assessment like the widespread uptake of Heart Health Checks,” said Ms Raffoul.

“Validated calculation of a person’s CVD risk during a Heart Health Check allows therapy to be targeted to people who would most benefit from it.

“We can learn from international preventative screening programs such as those rolled out across the UK and New Zealand to drive better assessment and management of CVD risk in Australia.”

Ms Raffoul continued, “Pharmacological lowering of blood pressure, even in people without existing CVD, reduces the incidence of coronary heart disease events by up to a quarter and a 1 mmol/L reduction of LDL cholesterol is associated with a 20 to 30 per cent reduction in coronary heart disease events.”

The Heart Foundation has calculated that, for the costs of detecting, managing and treating patients at high risk, the net benefit in healthcare savings would be $130 million.

It said the federal government should make Heart Health Check Medicare item numbers 699 and 177 permanent to ensure people at risk of heart, stroke and vascular disease are detected early and treated according to recommended guidelines.

The Heart Health Check is the first preventative health assessment Medicare item number to incorporate absolute cardiovascular disease risk calculation and facilitate yearly assessment.

“Through the guidance of our primary care Expert Advisory Group, we know that easy to use tools and resources that make the Heart Health Check fast and simple to deliver are essential.

“The Toolkit offers pre-populated assessment and management templates for GPs and practice nurses to collect CVD risk factor information and support patients to manage their risk.

“It also includes a range of resources that can be used by general practices to help engage patients in their heart health,” added Ms Raffoul.

The Heart Foundation’s economic analysis of treating high-risk patients was funded by a Sanofi Community Support Research Grant.