Nancy McDonald with her parents and family


Strong relationships in every aspect of life have a direct impact on health. Family, friends and colleagues immediately come to mind, but many individuals forget to consider healthcare professionals as key members of their support network. These relationships are especially valuable for individuals with chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes.

Holly Arends, CHSP, CMQP, Program Manager for Great Plains Quality Innovation Network“One of the strengths in healthcare is the patient/provider relationship,” commented Holly Arends, CHSP, CMQP, program manager for Great Plains Quality Innovation Network (QIN). “Patient and providers work together to manage a patient’s high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease using lifestyle changes and medications.”

Patient-centered care initiatives and value-based reimbursement expanded the focus of healthcare services in all categories, including treatment, self-management and prevention. As healthcare professionals worked to improve quality of care, the need to educate and support patients in making healthy behavior change was clear. While the basics of eating right and exercising can have a significant impact on health, many individuals lack the education and/or support to begin and manage these routines.

“My mother has been managing diabetes for over 40 years. In addition, she experienced multiple cardiac events. Her healthcare provider referred her to a nutritionist, and with the help of her diabetic educator, my mother was able to change her life,” explained Nancy McDonald, RN, BSN, CPHQ, director of quality improvement for Great Plains QIN.

High blood pressure increases the risk for heart disease and contributes to complications for those diagnosed with diabetes. A recent Great Plains QIN webinar titled Know Your Diabetes by Heart: Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease  detailed the connections and risk factors (see infographic).

“Strong scientific evidence shows that following a heart-healthy eating plan is an important part of managing high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease,” Arends added. “Adopting lifestyle change is a great way to give patients power over their hypertension and improve their overall health.”

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is often recommended by healthcare professionals to lower blood pressure. This eating plan is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole-grains, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry and fish, nuts and beans and non-tropical oils and requires no special foods or supplements.

Nancy McDonald with her parents and her son.

Nancy McDonald, far right, with her mom, dad and son.

“There is no doubt in my mind that lifestyle changes are the reason my mom achieved improved health which led to lower healthcare costs by keeping her out of the hospital and preventing additional health complications,” McDonald declared.

She expanded on her mom’s experience, “Mom made a commitment to reduce her salt intake and sweets, along with starting a very simple routine of 30 minutes of walking at the gym. At her next appointment her doctor said, ‘I don’t know what you are doing, but keep doing it.’  Her lab work had improved tremendously.”

Developing and maintaining healthy behaviors long-term can be challenging and chronic disease self-management programs are available to provide the tools and support to succeed.

Resources of the Stanford Model include Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions which states, Success improves health. The benefits of change go beyond the payoffs of adopting healthier habits. Obviously, you will feel better when you exercise, eat well, keep regular sleeping hours, stop smoking, and take time to relax. But regardless of the behavior that’s altered, there’s evidence that the feelings of self-confidence and control over your life that come from making any successful change improve your health.”

Great Plain QIN collaborates with healthcare professionals across the four-state region on a large variety of health priorities and promotes the Million Hearts initiative.  Additional tools and resources on cardiac and diabetes care are available on the Great Plains QIN website.

February is Heart Health Month. Awareness Saves Lives. Visit the American Health Association site for American Heart Month messaging, social media tools and resources for consumers and health professionals.