The heart test that will save four lives a day

By | March 31, 2019

It’s the test that could save four lives a day.

From tomorrow, Australians aged over 45 will be eligible for a simple Medicare-funded test that will reveal if they are at risk of a heart attack in the next five years.

The Heart Health Check is a key win for the heart health campaign run in partnership between the Heart Foundation and News Corp papers.

Millions of Australians are at risk of having a heart attack in the next five years but most won’t know this because, unlike for cancers, we have no national screening program for the disease.

This new test means for the first time the health system will have a formalised screening program for the nation’s leading killer — heart disease.

The Heart Foundation estimates the heart health check will prevent more than 9000 deaths and 76,500 heart attacks over the next five years by identifying people at risk and managing them appropriately.

Doctors around the country are already preparing to use the introduction of the new Medicare $ 72. 80 rebate to promote heart health checks.

Dr Fiona Napier-Flood from the Heart GP clinic in Eastgardens says it is a breakthrough to finally have Medicare fund a heart screen before people have symptoms of heart disease.

“In the past you needed to be symptomatic before doctors could claim a Medicare rebate,” she said.

Chief executive of Heart GP Tim Dugansaid usually “the first symptoms of heart disease result in them calling an ambulance”.

Dr Napier-Flood said her clinic this week had one patient walk in having a heart attack and another two so close to a heart attack they had to be referred to hospital.

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“Well done to News Corp for coming on board and getting this done,” said Mr Dugan.

Dr Martin Fox in Melbourne has prepared promotional material for his Southgate medical practice where he plans to offer bulk billed heart testing from this week.

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“We don’t have enough support for prevention under Medicare and this rebate will get it in the front of people’s mind that they need to do it,” Dr Fox said.

“Most people have no idea of their blood pressure or cholesterol levels,” says Dr Fox.

“This is a step in the right direction.” he said.

Patients found to be at risk of a heart attack as a result of the test may be referred for further testing such as an electro cardiogram (ECG) a CAT scan of their arteries to check for potential blockages, they may be prescribed medication to lower their blood pressure and cholesterol and be referred to a cardiologist.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said getting a heart health check will save and protect lives.

“We know that heart disease kills and it can come on suddenly,” he said.

“I encourage Australians to see their GP and get this important check to find out if they are at risk of suffering a heart attack.

“It could be one of the most important things you could ever do,” he said.

Labor leader Bill Shorten is also fully committed to the measure and has pledged $ 170 million to fund it if he wins the May election.

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Heart Foundation Acting Group CEO, Graeme Lynch thanked the government for its commitment to Heart Health Checks.

“This is a significant and defining moment for public health in Australia, and in the fight against the nation’s leading cause of death: heart disease,” he said.

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Dr Harry Nespolon said “any money that goes to preventive health is a good thing, Medicare has never done that before”.

Dr Nespolon says Medicare now needs to fund a new radiology test that scans people’s arteries to find blockages, currently it costs patients $ 150-$ 200.

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Since launching its heart health campaign with the Heart Foundation in February, News Corp more than 265,000 individuals have gone to the foundation’s website to check their heart age, an indicator of whether they have a heart health problem.

The campaign has also won a series of major commitments from federal politicians that will reduce the devastating impact of the disease on the community.

The Labor Party has pledged to provide $ 300,000 so 30 communities can provide education to women about how they experience heart attacks differently to men so they can seek help early.

It has also signalled it will fund new hard hitting anti-tobacco advertising campaign to reduce heart disease caused by smoking.

And it says it will develop an updated national nutrition strategy if it wins the May election to reduce heart disease caused by poor diet and obesity.

The Government has written to Professor Gemma Figtree, chair of the Australian Cardiovascular Mission asking her to oversee and develop a response to the matters raised by the Heart Foundation and to help improve women’s cardiac diagnosis.

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Together with the states and territories it has an agreement to work on a nationally co-ordinated approach on anti-tobacco advertising.

In October 2018 it held a National Obesity summit and a strategy is being developed as a result of that meeting.

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