Public Release: 

American Heart Association Comments On Report: "Missed Opportunities In Preventive Counseling For Cardiovascular Disease - United States 1995"

American Heart Association

CDC's Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report (Feb 13,1998)

Results of a survey, published in the Feb. 13 issue of the Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report (MMWR), indicate that few physicians counseled patients about how physical activity, diet and weight reduction can help reduce an individual's risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack and stroke, which are the country's leading causes of death.

Data from 29,273 office visits were collected in the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Center for Health Statistics during 1995. The results show that 19.1 percent of the participating physicians counseled their patients about physical activity; 22.8 counseled their patients about diet and 10.4 percent counseled their patients about weight reduction.

Smokers were directed to smoking cessation programs in only 41 percent of their visits to the physicians surveyed. According to the MMWR article, physician advice is a major motivating factor in a patient's decision to change unhealthy behaviors.

Commenting on behalf of the American Heart Association, Philip Greenland, M.D., chairperson of the AHA's Prevention Committee, says he was "dismayed" at the results of this survey. Greenland is also the department chairman and professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern School of Medicine in Chicago.

"Many studies have shown that physician advice is a powerful motivational tool to help patients be more compliant with new behaviors that can help reduce their risk of disease. What this study shows us is that we have a long way to go before we have achieved our goal of effective patient counseling. As health-care providers, we must accept some of the blame for patient non-compliance," says Greenland.

Non-compliance means that patients do not follow recommendations for lifestyle changes that may help reduce an individual's risk of cardiovascular diseases.

The American Heart Association estimates that noncompliance results in millions of hospital admissions each year in the United States.

"Talking to a patient about lifestyle modifications, such as starting a walking program or quitting smoking is a low-tech, painless technique that can help patients make meaningful improvements in their lives," says Greenland. "The American Heart Association hopes that reports like these can help spur changes in physician and patient counseling practices that can help patients take greater control of their health.

Media contact: Brian Henry (214) 706-1135 or Carole Bullock (214) 706-1279.

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