Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death both nationally and globally. Thankfully, heart attacks and strokes are not something we can catch quickly like a cold or viral infection. Strokes occur only after years, often decades, of unhealthy behaviors that lead to untreated risk factors which contribute to the process of atherosclerosis and ultimately to an emergency event. As I tell the medical students I train in my lectures, this means we have many opportunities over time to prevent these conditions. Prevention by modifying risk factors is the key to preventing strokes and heart attacks. As I have written, given the chronic diseases of our time like cardiovascular disease, we have a responsibility to shift the focus of our system from sick care to health care to re-engineer prevention into our health care system.
Enter health technology. Health technology offers a powerful tool to empower patients to actively prevent the chronic diseases of our time by empowering us to modify our risk factors and prevent stroke. Most people go to the doctor when they have symptoms or are sick to help manage their conditions. Only connecting with patients at medical office visits is a limited approach. Being able to give patients tools that they can use in their home on their time to learn more about their medical conditions, collect meaningful data and take actionable steps based on these is part of the hope that these new technologies offer. Prior to the era of portable, wearable and accessible personal technologies, the medical profession has struggled to motivate and empower patients to change these lifestyle risk factors.
Moving forward, we have to find the threads of actionable knowledge amidst the noise of mass data coming from multiple platforms with health data. This is the challenge, and now with the reality of the Coronavirus pandemic, using distance and virtual means of connecting to patients with meaningful data will be key to stroke prevention. Stroke prevention boils down to maintaining optimal lipid levels, weight, blood pressure, blood sugar and modifying any other risk factors such as smoking status or sedentary lifestyle. Wearables like pedometers enable patients to quantify their steps, recognizing that as little as 10,000 steps a day in someone who is otherwise inactive can have a significant (> 20%) reduction of risk for stroke by decreasing blood pressure. Data collection of blood pressure and continuous glucose monitoring with uploads to the cloud for physician review can lead to better day to day and hourly control of the factors that increase our risk for stroke.
Learning more about these technologies through public and private partnerships and virtual medicine platforms will usher in a new era of prevention that finally gives people the tools they need at home to prevent life threatening events like heart attacks or strokes.
Thank you to Dr. Farshad Fani Marvasti, MD, MPH, for this blog. Dr. Shad is an Associate Professor and Director of Public Health, Prevention and Health Promotion at the University of Arizona College of Medicine Phoenix. Find him online at doctorshad.com.