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The Need to Expand Patient Education Initiatives to Identify and Address Modifiable Risk Factors

March 11, 2021

By Yvette C Terrie, BS Pharm, RPh, Consultant Pharmacist

Every day, health care professionals seem to learn a little more about COVID-19 as well as the medical conditions that may contribute to the severity of infection and the patient populations at greater risk for hospitalization due to severe infection. Results from a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association that analyzed data from the CDC, COVID-NET and the COVID-19 Tracking Project indicated that an estimated two out of every three hospitalizations due to COVID-19 were attributed to four preexisting conditions including diabetes, obesity, hypertension and heart failure.

The analysis data was from more than 906,849 COVID-19 hospitalizations and the results reveal that an estimated 64% of hospitalizations were attributable to four medical conditions mentioned above. Researchers found that an estimated 20.5% COVID‐19 hospitalizations were attributable to diabetes mellitus, 30.2% to total obesity (body mass index ≥30 kg/m2), 26.2% to hypertension, and 11.7% to heart failure. The authors of the study concluded that a considerable percentage of U.S. COVID‐19 hospitalizations seem to be due to major cardiometabolic conditions and that the results from this analysis may encourage health care professionals to increase patient education initiatives to reduce COVID‐19 health care burdens especially in patient populations with these four medical conditions. The researchers noted that the findings from this analysis emphasize the crucial need for trials to explore whether improving cardiometabolic health will diminish hospitalizations, morbidity, and health care burdens from COVID‐19. 

In an interview, lead researcher Meghan O'Hearn, a doctoral candidate at the Friedman School stated, “Medical providers should educate patients who may be at risk for severe COVID-19 and consider promoting preventive lifestyle measures, such as improved dietary quality and physical activity, to improve overall cardiometabolic health. It's also important for providers to be aware of the health disparities people with these conditions often face.” 1

Table 1: Most Recent Statistics for Diabetes, HTN, HF and Obesity in the United States

table 1


Every day, health care professionals endeavor to positively impact the health of their patients and it is important that patients take an active role in improving their overall health. The results of this study are an eye opener to the urgent need to expand understanding about recognizing and addressing modifiable risk factors in vulnerable patient populations especially in those at risk for or those with diabetes, HTN, HF and obesity. The alarming statistics noted above undoubtedly demonstrates the need to seize every possible opportunity to educate patients about incorporating preventative measures into their daily routines that may improve their overall health and prevent or reduce the incidence and health related consequences of these medical conditions. 

By engaging patients in an open dialogue and encouraging patients to learn more about their individual risk factors for these conditions, patients can be empowered with essential information which will enable them to make informed choices about their overall health. As integral members of the health care team, pharmacists are in a pivotal position to boost knowledge about reducing and preventing diabetes, CVD and obesity. During counseling, pharmacists can also help identify patients at risk for these medical conditions and encourage them to discuss their modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors with their primary health care providers. They can counsel patients about medications and also implement clinical intervention strategies to augment patient compliance to prescribed therapies and recommended lifestyle modifications such as losing weight if needed, dietary plans that promote healthy eating, implementing an exercise routine when feasible and getting adequate sleep/rest each night. 

The ongoing pandemic in some ways has taught us all that there are some things beyond our control, but health care providers can remind patients that they can improve their health by implementing measures to positively affect their health by addressing their modifiable risks factors when possible and that all starts with patient education and guidance and encouragement from health care providers.

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