A team of Bond University researchers are rewriting the script on heart disease with a grant from the Heart Foundation.
Dr Loai Albarqouni and his team found simple lifestyle switches are often as effective as popping a pill but getting patients to take them seriously can be a challenge.
That’s why they are designing a new tool for GPs that will allow them to issue prescriptions for non-drug interventions.
The web-based tool, co-designed with patients and General Practitioners, will make it easy for GPs to prescribe these effective non-drug interventions and have localised information about available lifestyle changes at their fingertips.
Dr Albarqouni, from Bond University’s Institute for Evidence Based Healthcare, said there were often barriers preventing GPs and patients from accessing the full range of non-drug interventions including lack of knowledge about their effectiveness and lack of easy access to information at the point of care.
“We know that sometimes small lifestyle tweaks can be just as beneficial as drug interventions – we’ve found that something as simple as changing the type of salt heart patients use can be just as effective as taking a pill,” he says.
“For example, switching from the usual sodium chloride salt to potassium chloride salt can reduce deaths from heart disease by 20-25 per cent over three years, just as effective as prescribing blood pressure medication.
“But for a GP to recommend this switch, they need to know a) that it works and b) that their patient can easily access it locally and be able to easily prescribe it for their patients. This tool will provide all the evidence and support for non-drug interventions in one place, along with localised information about availability of certain products and treatments.”
Dr Albarqouni said co-design was key to creating an effective tool, given the levels of overwork GPs are facing.
“The last thing we want to do is add yet another step for GPs to follow, or create another new program that they have to access during a consultation, when they are already so busy,” he says.
“The aim is to create something that will integrate with existing systems. This Heart Foundation grant will allow us to undertake the co-design and testing work to achieve that goal.”
He also hoped the ability for GPs to provide prescriptions for lifestyle interventions would improve patient uptake.
“We’re looking at the value of being able to provide a script for these interventions, rather than GPs simply talking to their patients about them. This doesn’t seem to be valued as much as actually having a prescription, so we want to be able to give GPs that option,” Dr Albarqouni says.
The Vanguard award from the Heart Foundation will allow the new tool to be tested with individual GPs through an iterative design process so it can be tweaked and improved based on feedback from GPs and patients.