Staying on track for a healthy heart

May 1, 2003, vol. 27, no. 1
By Marianne Meadahl

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A special look at health research As one of Canada's top-ranked comprehensive universities, SFU has no medical school. Yet 130 faculty and their students, representing departments ranging from gerontology to molecular biology and biochemistry, are involved in ground-breaking medical and health-related research. “We want to depart from the conventional clinical models of health research and education,”says President Michael Stevenson. “By drawing on our interdisciplinary strengths, there are very real opportunities in areas such as health promotion and population health to explore.” These stories showcase SFU's prowess in the medical and health research field.

Kinesiologist Scott Lear measures the blood pressure of a patient at St. Paul's Hospital. Lear's new software could lead to better follow up practices in healthy heart program patients.

Heart disease patients who complete the healthy heart program at St. Paul's hospital could soon find it easier to stay on track once they are finished.

Their link to health professionals and programs could be just a click away.

SFU kinesiologist Scott Lear is testing software he developed to help patients track their progress and maintain optimum health, wherever they live.

“Between one third and one half of patients participating in the program don't live in the Lower Mainland. They will make the trip for surgeries and procedures, but typically, their communities don't have the same followup services, and often, they are left to their own devices,” says Lear.

A pilot study is under way involving 10 patients on a waiting list for the hospital's cardio-rehabilitation program. Each patient will have a laptop computer and internet access, and will input data, answer questions and follow advice over a 12-week period. Participants will then be interviewed.

Lear expects the trial run will highlight trends in improving activity levels while encouraging self-care.

Lear is also tracking the progress of 300 participants of the healthy heart program over a four-year period to see whether longterm ties with health professionals lead to better health. The four-month program for those diagnosed with heart disease has been run at St. Paul's hospital for several years and is an integral part of treatment.

“There is evidence suggesting that after they leave the program, patients may stop exercising, and after being off work for four months, tend not to keep up with activities once they return,” says Lear. “I liken it to walking off a cliff.”

Lear says simple upkeep of a health program could mean the difference between good health and health erosion, leading to further dependence on the healthcare system.

Lear is contacting patients monthly to monitor their progress. “If we can demonstrate that these patients are healthier as a result of health professionals simply calling once or twice a month to keep up that contact, that would have obvious benefits for the system in general,” says Lear, who will wrap up the study next June.

Lear is also working with community healthcare workers on a study comparing obesity in 200 Lower Mainland Chinese, South Asian and European immigrants, to determine how the relationship between body fat and risk factors for heart disease differ between these groups. The study will later include aboriginal groups.

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