Human heart attack pain as an anatomy medical disease concept with a person suffering from a cardiac illness as a painful coronary event with 3D illustration style elements.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has launched an ambitious effort to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes by 2022. In its initiative—Million Hearts 2022—the CDC says heart disease and stroke are “largely preventable.” In other words, we know how to reduce the threat. “We know middle age can be a ticking time bomb for heart disease, says CDC’s Principal Deputy Director, Anne Schuchat.
While health professionals have plenty of facts to offer, they know that facts alone are not enough to persuade people to improve their health. They need to connect with people on an emotional level and in words average people can understand.
Spreading the word requires partners—health care systems, health providers, government agencies, insurance providers, and other organizations. But it’s an uphill battle. In a recent press conference, Dr. Janet Wright, executive director of Million Hearts, said, “We are battling a fearsome foe, and indications are strong we are losing ground.” The good news, she says, is that small changes can make a big difference. Wright and the Million Hearts campaign are working to save lives by making the message simple and engaging.
Here are several ways the campaign is communicating the information required to persuade people to do the little things that will save lives.
Simplify the message.The campaign will focus on the “ABCS” of heart health: Aspirin use, Blood pressure control, Cholesterol management and Smoking cessation. The neuroscience literature on the topic of persuasion has established that people can only recall three or four key messages in short-term memory. By focusing on the big four, the campaign is focusing on the simple steps that are proven to reduce the risk factors for millions of Americans.
Provide communication training. The Million Hearts campaign provides healthcare providers with communication tips to spread the world more effectively. For example, a big problem is that patients either don’t take their blood pressure medication regularly, fail to pick up prescriptions or stop taking the medicine. According to the CDC, a technique called Ask-Tell-Ask has been found to effective in keeping patients on track.
Step 1. Ask permission to provide information on the topic such as blood pressure medication. “There are several things I want to tell you about your new medication. Is that okay?"
Step 2. Tell the patient what they need to know (when they should take medication, expected side effects, and the importance of taking it as directed, etc).
Step 3. Ask the patient to repeat the information back in their own words.
The CDC reminds health providers that they should language that doesn't require a medical degree to understand.
Share survivor stories. The Million Hearts website offers an abundance of multimedia resources that are sharable on social media. For example, “The Faces of Stroke” includes survivor stories meant to remind people that strokes can happen to anyone—from young mothers to fit athletes.
In one story we learn about 49-year-old Adrian Cushenberry. He worked out five days a week and had run in 30 races. He didn’t smoke, rarely drank and ate healthy foods. After a workout, he suffered a stroke at the wheel and drove into two parked cars. He couldn’t move the left side of his body. Fortunately, when the ambulance arrived, he was only 8 minutes from the hospital. Adrian was fit, but he didn’t know that he was at higher risk because of his family history. The story has a happy ending. Adrian was successfully treated and takes medicines to prevent blood clots and to control his blood pressure. On the one year anniversary of his stroke, he ran a 9-mile race.
The website also offers videos of short, 2-minute stories from survivors telling their stories. Facts alone are not enough. Real stories of real survivors spoken by the victims themselves are far, far more impactful than pages of data.
Use simple words and explanations. The CDC has taken active steps in the past several years to simplify its language. On YouTube, the Million Hearts campaign has produced animated videos that use remarkably simple language to explain how strokes and heart attacks happen. For example, in one video we meet Emma, a character who represents the 67 million U.S. adults with high blood pressure. She seems fine but as the cartoon’s narrator says, “Inside there’s trouble.” The explanation uses metaphor and analogy to make the concept easier to understand. It’s also written in eighth-grade language. Here's an excerpt:
Just like a radiator on the fritz, Emma’s heart is working overtime to get the job done. The heart is the pump in our bodies. Delivering blood to the entire system through a set of pipes or blood vessels of all sizes. Smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, family history and increased age all contribute to these vessels—or pipes—becoming less elastic. The more blood our heart has to pump through stiff, narrowing arteries, the higher our blood pressure.
The CDC has an ambitious vision to prevent one million heart attacks by 2022. By using simple words, multimedia resources, and storytelling, it has a better chance of reaching its goal.