UBC study uses pharmacists in preventative approach to heart health

The combination of preventative medicine and pharmacists can be powerful.

Through a collaboration between the University of British Columbia’s pharmacists clinic and its human resources’ health, well-being and benefits division, researchers sought to improve the cardiovascular health of staff members, including those who didn’t realize they might be at risk.

“In British Columbia, part of a pharmacist’s scope of practice is preventing illness and preventing disease,” says Barbara Gobis, director of the pharmacists clinic at the university.

Gobis and her collaborators specifically focused on prevention, aiming to measure the risks that have yet to surface. “We found unmanaged risk out there and that’s what you want to be dealing with — people before they’re so sick that it’s really hard to get them back to a good place.”

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The research then sought to measure the effects of intervening, with the goal of improving the health of the 178 participants. “The intervention itself was, we would meet with a person, we would do a number of health measurements — height, weight, body mass index, blood pressure, lipid panel [and] lifestyle risk factors — and we would calculate a Framingham risk score, which is a tool that helps measure risk,” says Gobis.

Even though the participants might not be seeing or feeling the negative effects of their risk factors, the Framingham risk score allowed researchers to measure the likelihood that someone would have a cardiovascular event in the next 10 years.

For participants who wanted help reducing their risk, the next step was to spend time with a pharmacist, she says. “We would discuss where their health was at, what areas of their health the risk was coming from, what goals they wanted to set around changing some of their habits to reduce risk. And then we would help them.”

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The benefits of partnering with a pharmacist included ensuring participants were taking drugs they were already using effectively, getting them on new drug therapies and helping participants connect with services that could help them with diet, exercise or quitting smoking.

“Then we would check in with them,” says Gobis. “They would come and see us on a regular basis over 12 months. And then we measured them at the end.”

Overall, after 12 months, participants’ cardiovascular health risks were reduced by 8.5 per cent. For those starting out at the highest risk, improvements were even better, with a risk reduction of 18.1 per cent.

“People need help,” says Gobis. “It’s one thing to know you need to eat well or that there’s a gym around the corner. But putting it all together and making it real for yourself so you’re motivated and activated to do something about it, that’s hard to do, until you get hit with symptoms.”

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