As we near the end of February -- American Heart Month -- and begin to look toward spring, it’s a good time to reflect on a critical health issue in the United States: heart disease. At the Connect2HealthFCC Task Force, our goal is to better enable the use of broadband and advanced technologies to help consumers get well and stay healthy. Heart disease, affecting a growing number of Americans each year, is an area ripe for innovative technology-based solutions to improve its management, treatment, and ultimate prevention.
The critical nature of this endeavor requires little explanation for in the words of Aristotle, “the heart is the perfection of the whole organism.” And yet, despite its philosophical and biological significance, according to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women with over 600,000 lives lost each year. That accounts for an astonishing 1 in every 4 deaths. Furthermore, 1 in 3 American adults currently have some form of heart disease.
As a physician, I have seen the devastating effects of advanced heart disease first hand. From repeat hospitalizations due to poorly controlled heart failure to emergency surgeries for heart attacks, the impact of heart disease is profound. Fortunately, however, I have also seen the promise of broadband-enabled solutions to better prevent and control this disease.
Take for example, one successful application for advanced monitoring of congestive heart failure, an often difficult to manage condition. In the past, patients with advanced heart failure were monitored either by frequent doctors’ office visits or in-home nursing care. These approaches are costly, both in time and money. And for many in rural communities, simply beyond a health provider’s reach. Now however, patients with heart failure can be monitored at home via daily weigh-ins and vital sign checks that get transmitted electronically to the patient’s care team. This allows the team to immediately detect sudden weight gains (a sign of fluid overload from poorly controlled heart failure) and intervene before the condition worsens.
Or, consider the new collaboration between Qualcomm Incorporated and Walgreens that will enable consumers to connect their digital health devices (like a wrist-worn blood pressure cuff) and automatically capture all their health data in one place. To motivate consumers to participate, they can earn rewards for joining various health-related programs and tracking progress toward a goal. Another example might be the stunning prediction made by Singularity University professor and tech entrepreneur Vivak Wadhwa, who predicted in 2013 that within 2-3 years there would be an app that could diagnose heart health better than a cardiologist!
In the end though, the most effective approach to managing heart disease, is to prevent it in the first place. The American Heart Association and CDC offer several recommendations for prevention ranging from diet and exercise improvements to blood pressure monitoring. Again, broadband-enabled technologies, like the increasingly common fitness tracker and other wireless monitors, can help consumers embrace these recommendations by providing a much needed kick in the pants when they are tempted to stray from well-intentioned plans to get or stay active.
As we spring forward, many exciting broadband enabled solutions currently exist and many more are being developed, that help consumers manage their heart health or help prevent this insidious disease from ever occurring. Listen to your heart, find a tool that is right for you and take steps today to help the heart of a friend or loved one. In the process, the heart you save, just might be your own. For more information, see the Connect2HealthFCC Heart Health Consumer Tip Sheet.