Supporting Cardiac Health Education in the Rural U.S.
Cardiovascular disease prevention and awareness should be at the forefront of every healthcare discussion. It is time to mobilize public health efforts to communicate heart health risks and educate on preventive measures, particularly in rural areas where access to healthcare is an issue. These efforts must draw from the expertise of healthcare professionals, state and local agencies, and nonprofit groups and volunteers.
Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in my home state of Wyoming, just like it is in the United States. (CDC, 2021). So, when do people generally consider personal heart health? Consideration often only occurs during a significant cardiac event — heart disease is not always apparent. Timing is crucial during a cardiac event. Rural residents may experience a greater risk of adverse outcomes since rural hospitals do not have the resources or specialists to treat patients on-site. Instead, rural cardiac patients require medical transport to facilities that could be hundreds of miles away from the patient’s home. The pandemic further compounds the issue. Studies suggest that COVID-19 survivors may suffer injury to the heart due to the illness, even if the patient did not encounter hospitalization (AHA, 2020). Simply put, Covid-19 is potentially creating literal ticking time bombs regarding cardiac events at a time when resources are at their most limited. Stretched resources due to COVID-19 also threaten the ability of rural hospitals to transfer cardiac patients to higher levels of care (CDC, 2020).
Rural providers need support in conveying heart health messaging and creating opportunities outside primary care visits to learn about nutrition, physical activity, and simple self-checks individuals may perform, such as monitoring blood pressure and metabolic lab results. Imagine empowering a community with a health fair focused on cardiac health, where attendees receive blood draws and digital blood pressure cuffs, along with educational materials providing facts on what to look for regarding adverse heart health indicators. Understanding basic cardiovascular care guidelines may help save lives, particularly in rural areas where prevention is crucial to citizens that do not have specialized care at their fingertips.