Better heart health may be a phone call away

February 13, 2007
Over 65, short of breath and constantly fatigued? If so, you may be experiencing signs of heart failure, a chronic disease that develops slowly as the heart muscle weakens.

"It simply means the heart is failing to meet the needs of the body," said Renee Slater, a Heart Failure Telephonic Program case manager with New Hanover Regional Medical Center's Heart Failure Program.

NHRMC, cardiac program recently named a Cardiac Center of Excellence by Blue Cross/Blue Shield of N.C.,offers proactive care for heart failure patients that is desgined to improve their quality of life and avoid repeated hospitalizations or emergency room visits. The strategy includes that keeping channels of communication open and information flowing while looking for ways to spread awareness.

“Heart failure is the number one reason people over 65 are admitted to the hospital,” Slater said.

Nearly 5 million Americans suffer from heart failure, with 550,000 new cases diagnosed annually. Reasons for the heart's inability to properly circulate oxygen-rich blood to different organs, tissues, vessels and capillaries include damage from a heart attack, high blood pressure, narrow valves, infection, and even excessive alcohol consumption.

Patient follow-up is key in preventing hospital readmission, Slater said. “When we discharge heart failure patients, they’re enrolled upon referral in our Heart Failure Telephonic Program where we follow up with them by phone for up to six months at no charge,” she said. “Our goal is to reinforce education about the early warning signs of heart failure, so patients can monitor their health.”

The program currently has 300 patients and averages 150 calls a week.

“Some won’t recognize they’ve gained a significant amount of weight in a short time, or that they’re building fluid again,” she said.

Increased weight gain – more than five pounds in five days – and swelling of the feet or legs are two of heart failure’s most visible symptoms, she said.
Still, there are plenty more communities where Slater would like to circulate her message of heart failure awareness.

“We’ve had such success in talking with patients over the phone we wanted to get the information about heart failure out to more people, especially how to prevent it” she said.

To this end, NHRMC’s Heart Failure Program will host its first health fair in honor of Heart Failure Awareness week from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 13, at the New Hanover County Department of Aging Senior Center.

“The health fair is a way we can reach a lot of people,” said Slater. Health fair participants can expect a wide range of educational activities, including health assessments.

“We’ll have blood pressure, height and weight screenings, as well as measure blood oxygen levels and lung function,” she said.

Pharmacists will be on hand to assist with patients’ questions about heart and blood pressure medications, while dietitians will discuss heart-healthy diets. Home healthcare vendors as well as social workers will also be on site.

“We’re getting good at treating heart attacks and clogged arteries … but with people living longer, we need to focus on stronger hearts,” Slater said.

For more information on the Heart Failure Program, please call 342.3519 or 800.920.2645