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03 May 2019

Newly released data reveal more than two thirds of Australian adults have at least three risk factors for heart disease.

At 69.1 per cent, that amounts to almost 13 million people at risk of the nation’s biggest killer.

The data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics National Health Survey 2017-18 was released by the Heart Foundation to mark Heart Week (28 April to 4 May 2019).

The Heart Foundations is using the data to urge GPs to deliver Medicare-funded Heart Health Checks, the patient-friendly term for an absolute cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk assessment.

Item 699 is newly available on the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) and aims to support health professionals to give patients absolute CVD risk assessments.

It is eligible for All adults not already known to have CVD who are aged 45 years and above (30 years and above for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples).

The item can be claimed once per patient in a 12-month period.

Professional attendance for a heart health assessment by a GP at consulting rooms lasting at least 20 minutes and must include:

(a) collection of relevant information, including taking a patient history that is aimed at identifying CVD risk factors, including diabetes status, alcohol intake, smoking status, cholesterol status (if not performed within the last 12 months) and blood glucose;

(b) a physical examination, which must include recording of blood pressure;

(c) initiating interventions and referrals to address the identified risk factors;

(d) implementing a management plan for appropriate treatment of identified risk factors; and 

(e) providing the patient with preventative health care advice and information, including modifiable lifestyle factors. 

Heart Foundation chief medical adviser Professor Garry Jennings said existing items had not adequately addressed guideline assessment and ongoing management of patients with CVD risk factors.

“The new item number emphasises, for the first time, the clinical importance of CVD assessment,” Professor Jennings said.

“We know that assessing and managing absolute CVD risk has the potential to prevent twice as many deaths from coronary heart disease when compared to treating individual risk factors.”

Absolute CVD risk looks at the combined risk of multiple CVD risk factors to estimate the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke in the next five years.

It involves recording a patient’s physical or lifestyle-related CVD risk factors, measuring their risk using a validated calculator and providing ongoing care and advice regarding modifiable risk factors such as nutrition, exercise and weight control.

“Although we have come a long way from treating single risk factors for CVD, there is more work to be done to address the significant under-treatment gap in Australia,” Professor Jennings said.

Up to 70 per cent of high-risk Australians aged 45 to 74 are not receiving guideline-recommended blood-pressure and lipid-lowering therapy.

“Importantly, assessing a patient’s absolute CVD risk helps guide medical decision-making around who is likely to benefit most from medication, and who may not.

“The new interim Heart Health Check MBS item offers health professionals in primary care the chance to systematically assess and manage absolute CVD risk in an ongoing way.”

It is estimated that widespread take-up of Heart Health Checks to people at high absolute risk of a CVD event could prevent 76,500 CVD events over the following five years.

Published: 03 May 2019