Want to Talk About It? Counseling Sessions Can Keep At-Risk Patients Healthy

"Talking it out" can help patients who are at risk for developing heart disease. The challenge for healthcare providers is to find a viable means to get some meaningful conversations going. 

Fortunately, web-based sessions offer healthcare providers a cost-effective platform that can be used to reach at-risk patients, according to a research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that was recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

"Following a healthy lifestyle and taking prescribed medications can reduce the risk for heart disease," said Thomas Keyserling, M.D., lead author of the study. "However, most providers do not have the skills and resources to help their patients achieve these goals. Delivering programs in nontraditional and cost-effective ways gives providers more options to keep patients healthy."

A team of researchers from the UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention conducted the study with 385 participants who did not have heart disease but who were at moderate to high risk for developing it. These participants were randomly assigned to participate in either a web-based intervention, or an in-person counselor delivered intervention. 

Both the in-person and the online interventions had the desired effect on participants, as the Framingham Risk Score, a measure that predicts the chances of future heart disease, was reduced substantially for participants from both groups. In addition, several risk factors improved, including blood pressure, blood cholesterol levels, self-reported dietary intake, physical activity and medication adherence.

The web-based counseling option offers an especially cost-effective way for health care providers to conduct counseling sessions with patients. The web-based counseling sessions cost just $110 per patient, compared to $207 per patient for the in-person sessions. 

"This study provides support for the importance of combining lifestyle and medication interventions to reduce heart disease risk and for the cost-effectiveness of the web-based format," said Keyserling. 

The study adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests that non-traditional approaches are becoming increasingly important in managing health and disease.