How to reduce heart-related deaths

Stemming heart disease and stroke is too big of a battle for physicians to tackle alone. Physician assistants can provide some much-needed support by explaining treatment plans, encouraging lifestyle changes, and improving both patient compliance and patient relations.

Today, more than 859,000 deaths are attributed to heart disease, stroke, and cardiovascular diseases each year, one-third of all U.S. deaths, according to the CDC.

February, National Heart Month, ushers in an opportunity to discuss the many ways in which to stem the rise of heart-related deaths in America. From heart healthy luncheons to fundraising events, several groups are bringing awareness to the public health crisis with calls to recognize risk factors, take action, and commit to healthy living.

Read more: A healthy heart this Valentine’s Day-and every day

While these awareness activities help to move the needle nationally, slowing the rate of heart-related deaths begins at medical practices with meaningful provider-patient relationships. One way physicians across the country can extend their reach to patients is through the addition of certified physician assistants (PAs). The collaborative care provided by the physician-PA team allows for a two-pronged approach to patient care.

I have been a PA for 15 years and have spent more than three years working alongside cardiologists to diagnose, treat, and manage patients with acute and chronic cardiac illnesses. As a PA, my strength resides in communicating with patients. By explaining to patients their illness and how both lifestyle and pharmaceutical therapies modify their disease process, patient compliance has improved. I am able to spend the necessary time to counsel patients prior to procedures, during hospitalization for acute exacerbations of their illness, and in follow up at the clinic. I can adjust treatment plans and improve patient outcomes. This frees up cardiologists to concentrate on performing complex medical procedures.

The services PAs provide are an essential element in decreasing the morbidity and mortality associated with treatable heart-related diseases. Decreasing the prevalence of heart disease also means we need to help patients commit to healthier living. This means encouraging lifestyle changes through exercise and diet. It also means identifying and treating risk factors, such as high blood pressure or cholesterol levels. Diet and lifestyle changes are an essential part of disease management for the quality of life and long-term outcomes for patients living with congestive heart failure, ischemic heart disease, and atrial fibrillation.

As a woman who works in cardiology, I am grateful there’s momentum behind national campaigns like the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women campaign that seeks to drastically reduce the prevalence of heart disease-the No. 1 killer of women in America. At my medical practice, we’ve seen terrific gains in the number of women taking control of their condition, managing their symptoms, and thriving in their personal lives.

Many of our treatments and procedures are lifesaving and require the care coordination a collaborative medical care. This approach works best when the physician and PA have a strong team-based relationship.

Mentorship and skill development allow all team members to work at the top of their licensure for the most effective patient care. Physicians can help by providing opportunities for PAs to grow as clinicians. Many PAs become frustrated and end up changing jobs due to a lack of opportunity for professional growth and recognition for their experience. Developing a collaborative relationship allows physicians and PAs to spend more time doing what each of them loves most while providing quality patient care.

When we work together to improve health and encourage healthy behavior, we can help save lives.

Kimberly Berggren, PA-C, is a native of Nebraska and graduated from the PA program at Eastern Virginia Medical School in 2004. Kimberly, a mother of five, has spent 20 years as a military wife living in Texas, Florida, Virginia, France, California and New Mexico and has experience practicing in cardiology, emergency, internal and hospital medicine.

This blog was written in conjunction with the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA).