In the U.K, more than 7 million people are living with heart and circulatory diseases – from conditions that are inherited to those that people can develop later in life, such as coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure and vascular dementia. At the moment, heart and circulatory disease claims more than 150 000 lives each year – that’s one death every three minutes! The British Heart Foundation (BHF) is the largest independent funder of cardiovascular research. And since it was established, this research has helped to halve number of people dying from heart and circulatory disease in the UK each year.
Why does heart disease matter?
The BHF reports that around 80% of people living with heart disease have at least one other long-term condition, and this figure is growing. As one gets older the risk of coronary heart disease increases, and this may be due to a number of reasons. For example, poor nutrition, smoking and lack of exercise all increase people’s risk. And in some cases, underlying conditions such as high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure can lead to coronary heart disease if left untreated.
So managing your blood pressure, cholesterol and diet becomes even more important with a heart condition. And there is amazing support out there. Over the last year and a half, the BHF has created a community on HealthUnlocked to support people living with heart and circulatory diseases and those who want to learn more about them.
Changing the way people find health information online
When people are diagnosed with a heart condition, they are often advised by their doctors to make changes to their lifestyle in order to effectively manage their condition alongside taking medical treatments. This means that people will often have to take steps to improve their health, like planning healthy meals, quitting smoking and making time for regular exercise. This can be a daunting experience, especially if you don’t have anyone in your family or household who can support you. And we all know that healthcare professionals are not able to make themselves available to their patients 24/7.
This often leads to people seeking information and support elsewhere, such as the internet. With years of expertise in research in heart and circulatory diseases, the BHF offers a great volume of reliable information, tools, services and resources that can help people. They’ve also established an online community on HealthUnlocked to deliver services, education programmes and peer support. This provides people with a safe place to talk about the daily management of their heart condition as well as a hub to find resources that can help them on their journey.
There are BHF senior cardiac nurses, dietitians, support and helpline staff on the admin panel of the community.
Since its inception in June 2017, the BHF community has always been very active, with 7500 registered members creating over 46,000 pieces of content. There are BHF senior cardiac nurses, dietitians, support and helpline staff on the admin panel of the community. Collectively they act as the content moderators, ensuring that all information shared is safe and accurate, giving people the best possible support to manage their condition. This is why the community works so well – there are people who want to engage with one another, share their stories and support one another combined with an expert organisation who is able to help moderate. This means the information people are receiving is evidence-based and valuable.
Not only are people able to support each other and have direct access to the BHF staff, but they are also able to access BHF content and services directly through the community. Content and services have been curated around areas of interest to community members, including atrial fibrillation, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart attack. Community members are also able to search and select services close to them, all from a social environment which allows them to engage with other people living with the same or similar health conditions.
Content and services have been curated around areas of interest to community members, including atrial fibrillation, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart attack.
People are able to access in-depth articles about heart and circulatory diseases on topics ranging from signs to look out for before diagnosis to tips on adjusting your diet after a heart attack. The community also has a section on medical terms, breaking down the clinical jargon for people who are newly diagnosed. In addition to the credible health information that’s available 24/7, people are sharing their first-hand experiences on the platform; enabling others to learn from, ask questions and get support along their health journeys.
Making enhanced peer support available to the NHS
It’s important to note that while encouraging self-care, we’re not advocating that peer-support replaces the relationship between healthcare professionals and patients. Instead, we believe that having access to credible health information and therapeutic support 24/7 complements a patient’s clinical treatment and can create an environment where they can engage with their health condition on an ongoing basis, beyond the ward and beyond the clinic.
This opportunity is already being seized upon by the NHS, where HealthUnlocked communities and patient organisation resources are now being prescribed through the clinical workflow. We’ve seen this in Barking and Dagenham CCG where a patient with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), high blood pressure, interested in losing weight and quitting smoking can now be prescribed online peer support and resources directly through the electronic medical record. This provides people with a range of self-care and holistic support that can help them as people, not as patients.
If you, or someone you know, are looking for advice on managing a heart condition, join the British Heart Foundation community on HealthUnlocked.