Data reveals most at risk of heart attack, stroke

Heart Foundation

New figures released today by the Heart Foundation show Australians who left school early, Tasmanians, South Australians and those living in regional and remote areas are more than twice as likely as other Australians to have a high risk of heart attack or stroke in the next five years.

The figures are being released to highlight a new online Toolkit for Australian GP practices that aims to integrate Heart Health Checks into routine patient care to identify people at risk of heart disease.

The data identify Australians with a high absolute cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk score, defined as greater than 15 per cent risk of a heart attack or stroke in the next five years. The findings come from an analysis of ABS health survey results to derive absolute CVD risk scores among Australians aged 45 to 74.

Heart Foundation Risk Reduction Manager Natalie Raffoul said that by making the Heart Health Check easier to implement, more patients at risk of CVD will be identified and treated.

“This data reinforces that disadvantaged Australians are worse off when it comes to CVD risk.

“This combined with our knowledge from primary care data that tens of thousands of eligible Australians are not having their CVD risk assessed in line with guidelines shows that people at risk are falling through the cracks,” Ms Raffoul said.

“The Heart Health Check Toolkit enables general practice teams to work to their full potential and make the most out of their time with patients.”

Key findings:

  • The proportion of Australians at high risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next five years is at least 2.3 times higher for Australians living in the highest SES disadvantage quintile compared to those living in the least disadvantaged quintile.
  • By state, Tasmania and South Australia fare the worst. The proportion of Tasmanians aged 45 to 74 at high risk is 20% higher than the national average.
  • Australians aged 45 to 74 who did not finish high school are 65% more likely to be at high risk than those who finished school.
  • A higher proportion of people living in outer regional and remote areas are at high risk – 15% more compared to Australians living in major capital cities.

The Heart Health Check Toolkit was developed with input from a primary care Expert Advisory Group and general practice validation group with GP, practice nurse, practice manager and PHN representatives.

The Toolkit offers pre-populated assessment and management templates for Heart Health Checks that make it easier for GPs and practice nurses to collect CVD risk factor information and support patients to manage their CVD risk. It also includes a range of resources that can be used by general practices to engage patients in their heart health.

Melbourne GP and academic Associate Professor Ralph Audehm said that the specific MBS item number makes it easier to track heart health assessments.

“We can take a more proactive approach with our patients, and it also means our practice nurses can help to streamline the process. The Heart Health Check makes it easier to communicate heart-healthy tips to our patients and ensure the 20-minute check runs smoothly,” he said.

Ms Raffoul said the Toolkit also has a section on quality improvement and the PIP QI incentive launched by the Australian Government in 2019.

“The Toolkit encourages a whole of practice approach so that general practice teams can improve heart health outcomes for their patients while maximising the financial incentives they can receive via the PIP QI.

“With better processes for engaging and recalling patients eligible for a Heart Health Check, we hope to boost CVD screening rates and reach more at-risk Australians,” she said.

The Heart Health Check is the first preventative health assessment MBS item to incorporate absolute CVD risk calculation and facilitate yearly assessment. Absolute CVD risk brings together the combined risk of multiple CVD risk factors to estimate a person’s chance of heart attack or stroke in the next five years.

The Heart Health Check Toolkit can be found at heartfoundation.org.au/hhc-toolkit

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