February 16, 2016

Northwest doctors improve their practices—and patients’ heart health

Healthy Hearts NW is part of major national effort to help small medical practices to prevent heart disease, our biggest killer

This American Heart Month, primary-care practices in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho still have the chance to join Healthy Hearts Northwest: Improving Practice Together. This initiative will help hundreds of small- and mid-sized medical practices throughout the region to lower their patients’ risk for heart disease.

“The network is helping us to make our team more efficient,” said Tony Butruille, MD, a physician at one participating practice, Cascade Medical in Leavenworth, Wash. “We’re starting to improve our care processes, put the latest research into practice, and use our electronic health record more effectively. That means we’ll be able to take even better care of our patients with chronic conditions—and help save their lives.”

Why it matters

Healthy Hearts Northwest is important because death rates from stroke are higher in the Pacific Northwest than in the whole United States. Heart health indicators vary across the region and are worse in less populated rural counties than in urban areas.

Most Americans get care from small- and medium-sized primary-care practices, and more Americans die from heart disease than from any other cause. Nearly half of U.S. people are at risk for heart disease, and many aren’t getting the care they need. For instance, one in three Americans have hypertension (high blood pressure), a major risk factor for heart disease, and almost half of them aren’t getting treatment for it—and may not even know they have it, since it causes no symptoms.


Doctors can do a lot to help people lower their risk for heart attacks and stroke, said Michael L. Parchman, MD, MPH, a Group Health Research Institute senior investigator and director of the MacColl Center. It’s called ABCS:

  • Aspirin use if you have a history of cardiovascular disease,
  • Blood pressure control,
  • Cholesterol control, and
  • Smoking cessation.

For 15 months, practice coaches will help primary-care teams to deliver this risk-reducing care. The coaches also help participating teams learn how to improve their practices more generally: for instance, to use new evidence from medical research, and harness the power of their electronic health records. The practices share learning opportunities, including phone calls and webinars.

What’s in it for everyone?

The Network’s advantages for patients are obvious. But it can also help Family Medicine doctors meet their board certification for quality improvement, Dr. Butruille noted. And it can help medical practices to prepare for changes in reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid, which in 2019 will be based on clinical performance information starting in 2017.

“Joining Healthy Hearts Northwest is a win-win situation,” said Caren Sloan, office administrator at Sound Family Health in Poulsbo, Wash. “It’s a no-cost program that helps us to meet the quality measures that are needed. I strongly urge other practices to join the Network.” The value of participating in Healthy Hearts Northwest is estimated at $24,000, but is being offered to practices at no cost.

Part of national effort

Healthy Hearts Northwest is a collaboration between Group Health Research Institute’s MacColl Center for Health Care Innovation, Qualis Health, the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU)’s Oregon Rural Practice Research Network (ORPRN), and the Institute of Translational Health Sciences (ITHS). This initiative is part of the national EvidenceNOW: Advancing Heart Health in Primary Care initiative, sponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). It builds on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Million Hearts® initiative, with a goal to prevent a million heart attacks and strokes nationwide by 2017.

To learn more, watch EvidenceNOW's video: EvidenceNOW: Building a New Blueprint for Heart Health (Northwest Cooperative).

If joining is of interest, you can sign up here: http://healthyheartsnw.org/

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For more on Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute news, please contact:

Amelia Apfel


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