Can We Save a Million Hearts?

Tom Frieden, MD, MPH


August 11, 2014

Editorial Collaboration

Medscape &

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A few years ago, a colleague and I asked, "How can the healthcare system save the most lives?" Surely we thought the answer must be well known. A literature search turned up virtually nothing. As it turns out, the question hadn't been widely studied. When we did our own analysis, we found a simple and clear answer: We can save the most lives by better preventing heart disease and stroke.

High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking cause much -- maybe even most -- strokes and heart attacks. Among those factors, improving blood pressure control will have the most impact. If we improve the blood pressure control rate nationally to 70% or more, we can prevent 46,000 deaths each year. We can do this.

Across the country, healthcare systems are achieving control rates of 70% and higher. Identifying high performers and learning from them is key to our goal of preventing 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. What we have learned from these high-performing healthcare systems is that the 3 things clinicians can do is to set up the teams, technology, and treatment protocols to help their patients.

It takes using an evidence-based high blood pressure treatment protocol and a commitment to involving the entire healthcare team -- the physician, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, nurse pharmacist, care coordinator, and the patient and his or her family.

I invite you to read Medscape's accompanying article describing the work of the 9 healthcare systems recognized as Million Hearts hypertension control champions for 2013. You will find practical, scalable strategies that are useful in a variety of primary care settings.

We can save a million hearts, but only with your help. Let's do this together.