Let’s Meet Women Where They’re At: The Future of Patient Education in Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiology as a field has made enormous strides in understanding who our patients are and how to treat them since the American Heart Association’s first public campaign on symptoms of myocardial infarction in 1970.  We’ve entered an era where it is general knowledge that patients with cardiovascular disease are not solely white men of a certain age and smoking history but rather that our patient population is as diverse as the general population itself, including women of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds.  What we now need to focus on is how to effectively educate those women on their disease and how to not only live with it but thrive with it.

In her talk delivered at RISE 2023, “Strategies to Improve Outcomes and Care for Women with Heart Disease: Education,” Dr. Sharonne Hayes, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Mayo Clinic, broached an enormously important question: How do we as physicians & healthcare teams, with all our medical training and preconceived notion on patient education that comes with it, meet women where they’re at and communicate with them in a way that feels relevant and effective to them?  We face barriers in healthcare to achieving this goal, including overgeneralized messaging to broad populations of patients, unreliable online sources and well-intended advice givers, limits to time the medical team has with the patient, and a limit in understanding of sex and gender specific cardiovascular risk factors amongst non-cardiovascular teams.

So how do we move forward from here?  Dr. Hayes offers a vision of future patient education that breaks our current mold.  Rather than board approaches, she discussed nuanced, tailored education… rather than forcing patients to come to us, she suggests meeting the patients where they are: in their communities, their churches, their schools, their senior centers to both gain trust and gain access… rather than unvetted sources, we offer clear evidence-based education with high quality information in a format they’re able to understand.  Even with this, patients are people, and their lives can be filled with challenges that make it difficult to implement our recommendations; caregiver obligations, ingrained distrust in healthcare, denial and stress, fear and lack of self-belief all take away from patient’s ability to take care of themselves.  We must help identify these barriers and meet our patients where they’re at, not just where we want them to be.  This is true of cardiology teams but also of primary care clinicians and obstetricians / gynecologists that so many of our patients known and trust.

Our ultimate goal as healthcare teams focused on cardiovascular health is to educate and treat our patients in a way that allows them to truly thrive in and enjoy their lives.  As Dr. Hayes so succinctly discussed, in order to do so, we must meet patients in their communities, offered nuanced, evidence-based education, and offered education to broad healthcare teams that is sex and gender specific to have the best chance of ultimate success, which is patients who understand their disease and are empowered to do something about it.

Dr. Jenna Skowronski is chief cardiology fellow at the University of Pittsburgh, CardioNerds fellow ambassador, and was CardioNerds Conference Scholar for the RISE 2023 conference hosted by Women as One.