Did you know that tobacco use in the United States costs an estimated $197 billion a year in lost productivity and health care costs? Add to that second-hand smoke, which costs an additional $10 billion in losses. Tobacco use contributes to one of every five deaths, and smokers die an average of 13 years earlier than nonsmokers.

“While it’s not easy to quit, it is possible to do so. And employers can help,” says Julie Sich, health promotions coordinator for SummaCare Inc.

“Both the employer and employee can benefit when the employer helps the employee who wants to quit,” says Sich. “Employees who quit can significantly improve their health and quality of life. Employers benefit by spending less on tobacco-related illnesses and gaining productivity in the work place.”

Smart Business spoke with Sich about how to provide the tools to help your employees quit smoking.

Why should employers be concerned about employees who smoke?

Worldwide, an estimated five million people will die this year as a result of smoking. In the U.S., tobacco use is responsible for an estimated one in five deaths, or about 443,000 deaths per year. This creates a huge impact on businesses and the health care system.

In addition, for every death that results from smoking, an additional 20 people suffer from at least one serious illness related to smoking, including smoking bronchitis, heart disease, stroke, cancer and lung disease. People who suffer from those diseases are not as productive and can cause substantial increases in health insurance premiums.

With an estimated 46.6 million smokers in the U.S. — 20.6 percent of the adult population — this can have a significant impact on the productivity of the country’s employers.

How do employees who smoke cost their employers money?

The first way smokers cost employers more money is obviously an increased use of health care, which can drive up premiums, but there are other ways that may not be as obvious. For example, if employees are taking four 10-minute smoking breaks each day, they are working one full month less each year than employees who aren’t taking comparable breaks. Each employee who smokes costs an employer an average of $1,897 per year in lost productivity as a result of smoking breaks and by being absent an average of two days more per year than their nonsmoking counterparts. In addition, workers’ compensation costs for nonsmokers average $176, while costs for smokers are more than 12 times that, at $2,189.

How can employers encourage employees to quit?

Many employees already want to quit smoking but don’t know where to turn. Studies show that approximately 70 percent of smokers want to quit, and, in 2008, about 45 percent of smokers attempted to do so. With that in mind, it may be easier than employers think to help people quit, as the majority of smokers already have the desire to stop.

Begin by surveying employees to identify the amount of interest in quitting, and find out what resources are available to help you decide on the approach you wish to take. Some employers choose to minimize their involvement and simply steer employees to information or community programs that could help. Others may choose to make some smoking cessation resources available themselves.

Finally, companies may choose to offer smoking cessation benefits such as therapy and individual and group counseling. When it comes to smoking cessation, one size does not fit all. People respond differently to different methods, and a program that offers both a counseling and coaching component can help a smoker develop a cessation strategy that works best for that individual.

Pairing counseling with nicotine replacement therapies and medications is even more effective, and employers who provide low- or no-cost access to medication can greatly increase their employees’ rate of success.

By providing support to help smokers quit, employers send the message that they care about their employees and want them to be healthy. Employees should also be reassured that the employer has their best interests at heart and is not trying to stigmatize them by encouraging them to quit.

How can employers provide incentives for employees to quit?

Small incentives can be effective in helping employees to quit. For example, those who succeed — or even those who complete a program but fail to quit — can be rewarded with lower health insurance and/or life insurance premiums or cash in a flexible spending account to pay for medication to aid in quitting. Also, employers can pair quitting smoking with other health and wellness programs, making it just one part of a healthy lifestyle.

Employers should encourage a supportive workplace. If smokers are stigmatized, they are less likely to succeed. Encourage your nonsmoking employees to offer support to those who are trying to quit.

Can banning smoking on company property be an effective step to helping employees quit?

Making it more difficult for employees to smoke during the workday may provide an incentive for some, although not all, employees to quit. However, banning smoking on your property can have additional benefits, including improved morale among nonsmokers, reduced liability from lawsuits for exposure to second-hand smoke, better air quality around the building, a better image for visitors and lower building maintenance fees.

Breaking an addiction to nicotine is not easy, but employers are in a great position to encourage and help their employees quit. Research shows that paying to help an employee quit smoking provides a great return on investment in lower health care costs, lower workers’ comp costs, increased productivity and fewer days of missed work.

Julie Sich is health promotions coordinator for SummaCare Inc. Reach her at (330) 996-8779 or sichj@summacare.com.

Published in Akron/Canton

Each year, about 40,000 people die in the United States as a result of breast cancer, and more than 232,000 new cases are diagnosed.

But with early detection, the number of deaths could decrease and those who are newly diagnosed would have a better chance at treatment and survival, says Julie Sich, health promotions coordinator for SummaCare Inc.

“Breast cancer is highly treatable if detected in the early stages,” says Sich. “With proper screening done on a regular basis, both men and women diagnosed with breast cancer have a high rate of survival.”

Smart Business spoke with Sich about the importance of early detection and how you, as an employer, can encourage employees to be screened.

How can screening help increase the rate of survival for those with breast cancer?

Based on a person’s history, age, lifestyle and other factors, a doctor may recommend screening for cancer. Because cancer starts at the cellular level and can grow slowly, screening can identify cancers before they become large enough to be physically detected and/or symptoms appear.

What are the risk factors of breast cancer?

The chances of getting breast cancer increase with age, and the majority of women are older than age 60 when diagnosed. A woman’s personal health history can also have an impact — someone who has suffered breast cancer in one breast is more likely to be diagnosed in the other.

Family history also plays a role; if your mother, father, sister or daughter has had an occurrence, especially before age 50, you are at higher risk for the disease. Having other relatives with breast cancer, both on the maternal and paternal sides, also increases your odds. Other risk factors include having a first child later in life, never having children, having a first menstrual period before age 12 and going through menopause after age 55.

While most of these factors cannot be controlled, a person can take steps to control other risk factors by decreasing alcohol consumption, eating healthy foods, staying at a healthy weight and taking part in regular physical activity.

It’s also important to remember that while most people think of breast cancer as a female disease, men can also be diagnosed with breast cancer. Of the more than 232,000 new diagnoses expected in 2011, more than 2,000 of those will be men, so men also need to be screened as part of their routine physicals.

How often should someone be screened?

Self-exams are recommended monthly for women starting in their 20s. Women in their 30s should talk with their physician to determine when it is clinically appropriate to schedule their first mammogram and frequency. Once a woman reaches the age of 40, clinical breast examinations are recommended every one to two years.

Mammograms — which can detect early changes in the breast before they can be felt — are recommended every two years after age 40. However, some women should be screened more often, for example, if they face high risk or have had an abnormal mammogram in the past. Women should talk with their physicians to determine what interval is best for them based on their personal and family histories.

If a mammogram indicates a suspicious area, that test may be followed up with an MRI, ultrasound or biopsy.

Why should employers encourage employees to be screened?

Early detection can result in both direct and indirect benefits for an employer. Screening will give employees peace of mind, improve their health and keep them healthier, happier and more productive at work. In addition, the investment in early detection can result in a huge cost savings to the employer, employee and the insurance company. Direct medical costs are high, lost productivity can be substantial and disability can continue for long periods of time. If cancer is found in the early stages, the resulting costs and time off work will be much smaller than if it had not been detected until later.

Screening costs insurance companies a few hundred dollars and can catch the disease early, while it can still be easily treated. Without screening, the disease may not be discovered until it has advanced, when treatment is much more difficult and costly — potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars.

How can employers encourage employees to be screened?

Employers can help employees stay healthy and identify breast cancer early by making sure that their benefit plans cover cancer prevention and early screening services.  Providing adequate coverage can help encourage employees who would otherwise not be screened to get screened. Offering education and incentives can also make employees aware of these services and encourage them to take advantage of them.

Employers should encourage employees to eat well, stop smoking, exercise and drink less as part of an overall approach to health, and incorporate these concepts as part of their wellness activities. Following these guidelines will help employees not only reduce their risk of breast cancer, but other cancers and diseases as well.

Employers can also sponsor activities during Breast Cancer Awareness Month and offer matches to fundraisers for activities such as the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.

By providing comprehensive health insurance and creating better access to preventive services, you can not only help your employees stay healthy but reduce turnover and lost productivity, avert direct medical costs and create a reputation as an employer who cares about the health of its employees.

Julie Sich is health promotions coordinator for SummaCare Inc. Reach her at (330) 996-8779 or sichj@summacare.com.

Published in Akron/Canton

Studies show that people are more likely to eat right or exercise if their friends, family and co-workers do so, too.

As an employer, that is something you can take advantage of to encourage healthy behavior in your employees. Many of them are already using social networking of some kind, so why not leverage that into your employee wellness program? Think of it as positive peer pressure.

“If employees are given access to a social platform as part of a wellness program, they feel more empowered to participate,” says Jamie Curts, vice president of business development with Spectrum Health Systems. “It adds a level of interaction with their peers.”

For example, employees could invite other employees on the network to a wellness event — such as a 5-K road race or a yoga class — then post photos or videos from the event, encouraging more employees to join them next time.

Smart Business spoke with Curts about how to change your employees’ status updates from “Just ordered a pizza” to “Just got back from the gym.”

How can social media tools impact participation in employee wellness programs?

There is more evidence than ever that shows peer support is a critical and effective strategy for ongoing health care and sustained behavior change. Combine this knowledge with the fact that Facebook alone has more than 500 million users, and it just makes sense to incorporate social media tools into employee wellness programs.

According to research by Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis, a professor at Harvard University’s medical school, people are more likely to eat right or exercise if family, friends and co-workers are doing so, as well.

How is this trend changing the way that employee wellness programs work?

While there is an increasing trend, only a small percentage of companies have actually put these tools in place. According to a 2010 survey by Towers Watson, only 9 percent of 588 companies surveyed use social media in their wellness initiatives. However, 42 percent of those in the survey plan to incorporate some element of social networking into their wellness initiatives by 2012.

We are beginning to see the engagement and the perception of employer-sponsored wellness programs shift among employees. With access to a social platform, employees feel more empowered to participate and share ideas among their peers, instead of just feeling as though they are participating in a company-sponsored ‘program.’ There will be more organically grown programs among smaller groups of employees with similar interests, needs and goals.

Which social media tools are particularly well suited to work with wellness programs?

There are many options available for employers; the key is finding the right platform for your organization. Many employers use Facebook and Twitter because they are already familiar with the functionality and capabilities. These are also inexpensive options for employers with a small budget.

If the employer already provides an intranet site, social media tools can be easily added to the benefits portion. Employees can be recruited to write blogs, Twitter feeds can be integrated, pictures and videos of wellness events can be posted and employees can post invitations to health and wellness groups and events.

Most wellness providers can also provide a customized platform for your organization. This platform can be branded to your organization, which will give it a special look and feel that supports your initiatives. This option appeals to many employers and employees because it is managed by a third party.

What are some examples of ways social media tools can be used with employee wellness programs?

One of the most popular worksite wellness activities is the companywide weight loss challenge. Participants are often encouraged and educated through company e-mails, posters and ‘lunch and learn’ presentations.

But very few organizations provide a tool for participants in these challenges to communicate their successes and struggles among each other. Not only will using social media as a tool to supplement the challenge help with the outcomes of the six-week-long weight loss program, the momentum can continue throughout the entire year.

How can social media tools be used to improve employees’ engagement with their wellness programs?

Social networking tools allow employees to directly invite and challenge each other to participate in wellness events, which are an effective way to increase participation. Senior leadership support is one of the most critical components of a worksite wellness program. However, employees are much more likely to participate if they see that their peers are involved.

What potential pitfalls should companies be aware of when adding a social media component to their wellness programs?

It is easy to add a company wellness group to Facebook and Twitter, but employers need to be aware of the limitations in regulating a public forum. There is less control as to who joins the group and the comments that are posted on the site. Employers can have more control by adding tools to an existing intranet site or by working with a third-party wellness provider.

Employers also need to know that social media tools are not the only solution to their wellness needs. This is just one tool that should be a piece of a larger strategy.

Jamie Curts is vice president of business development with Spectrum Health Systems. Reach her at jamie.curts@spectrumhs.com or (317) 573-7600.

Published in Indianapolis

More than 18 percent of the U.S. population suffers from high cholesterol, and many of those people may not know it. In fact, up to two-thirds of those suffering from high cholesterol may not have their cholesterol levels under control and, as a result, this silent killer may be doing grave damage to your employees, says Julie Sich, health promotions coordinator for SummaCare, Inc.

“People can’t feel their cholesterol levels rising and often don’t know their levels are high until a stroke or heart attack has occurred,” says Sich. “It is imperative to have regular screenings so that you can take action before irreversible damage has occurred.”

Smart Business spoke with Sich about the risks of high cholesterol and how to control cholesterol levels.

What is cholesterol, and what are the risks if levels are too high?

Cholesterol is a soft, waxy fat substance created by your body, and it is an essential part of the function of every part of your body. However, if you are producing too much of it, either as a result of the food you eat or heredity, the resulting plaque can accumulate on your blood vessel walls. That plaque can lead to a thickening of the walls of the blood vessels and can break off into clots, which can then result in stroke or heart attack.

Because the condition is often symptomless, it is important to be screened regularly.

How often should someone be screened?

Screening is simple — a blood test can establish cholesterol levels and should be done as a routine part of preventive care. In healthy adults, screening is recommended every five years, and more often — up to several times a year — for those whose levels are high and who are taking steps to lower them.

Screening should also be done more often for those who face one or more risk factors for heart disease. Risk factors include smoking, hypertension with blood pressure of 140/90 or higher, taking medication for high blood pressure, a family history of premature heart disease (before age 55 for male relatives and before age 65 for female relatives), pre-existing heart disease or a previous heart attack or diabetes mellitus. Men are also at greater risk after age 45, while the risk rises after age 55 for women.

What are the recommended cholesterol levels?

There are two types of cholesterol — LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol. In the past, the total cholesterol number was targeted. However, more recently, it is not the total number that matters as much as the levels of ‘good’ (HDL) and ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol.

Cholesterol levels are measured in terms of milligrams per deciliter of blood. For LDL, those at high risk of heart disease should aim for levels below 70 mg/dL; those at lower risk of heart disease should aim for below 100 mg/dL. For those without risk factors, 100-129 mg/dL is near ideal, while 130-159 mg/dL is borderline high, 160-189 mg/dL is considered high and anything over 190 mg/dL is considered very high. Higher levels of this cholesterol clog the arteries, making it harder for the blood to get through. That, in turn, makes the heart work harder, putting stress on the organ.

In addition, if the plaque on the walls of the arteries breaks loose, a clot can form. If that gets lodged in an artery it can choke off the blood supply and cells are deprived of oxygen and die. If a clot makes its way into the brain, blocking blood flow, a stroke can result. And if it moves to the coronary arteries, a heart attack may result.

HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, is often referred to as the ‘good’ cholesterol. This type attaches itself to bad cholesterol and routes it to the liver, which filters it out of the body, reducing the amount of bad cholesterol in your system. Levels of 60 mg/dL and above are recommended, while levels between 50 and 59 mg/dL are considered acceptable. Anything below 40 mg/dL for men and 50 mg/dL for women are considered poor levels.

In addition, triglyceride levels of 100 mg/dL or lower are considered optimal for heart health.

How can someone lower his or her cholesterol levels?

Increasing your levels of HDLs might be a better protector against heart disease than lowering your levels of LDLs, or bad cholesterol. Diet and exercise can play a big part in lowering cholesterol. For example, foods such as oatmeal, nuts and fish should be a regular part of your diet to help maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Vegetables, fruits and whole grains can also help increase dietary fiber and help lower bad LDL cholesterol. Reduce the amount of proteins in your diet, often consumed in meat and dairy products, and limit the amount of saturated fats and trans-fatty acids. When you must add fat, use those high in monounsaturated fats such as olive and peanut oil.

Also, limit the consumption of alcohol, as it can increase cholesterol levels. If you are taking cholesterol-lowering medication, it is important to continue taking it as directed by your physician. Because people on these types of medications don’t notice any difference in the way they feel as a result of taking them, it can be difficult to convince them that those drugs could be saving their lives.

So, how can employers help?

Encourage your employees to get their cholesterol checked regularly. Share information about the importance of diet and exercise. Consider offering healthy alternatives in vending machines and at company gatherings. Offer friendly ‘challenges’ with prizes for those who lower their levels — and maintain! Be creative — your employees will thank you for it!

JULIE SICH is the health promotions coordinator for SummaCare, Inc. Reach her at (330) 996-8779 or sichj@summacare.com. SummaCare offers a full line of health plans and ancillary products. Through its extensive network of more than 7,000 providers and more than 50 hospitals, SummaCare offers coverage to more than 115,000 members throughout northern Ohio.

Published in Akron/Canton

Social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, has been increasing in popularity in recent years, and along with that growth has come an increased connection to the health insurance world.

Once the question was: “Why would an insurer need a Facebook page?” Now, that question is more likely to be: “Why not?”

“The modern consumer of health insurance has come to expect companies to use social media products,” says Kelly Kimberland, director of social marketing for UPMC Health Plan. “When an insurer uses social media it is providing the access that consumers value.”

Smart Business spoke to Kimberland about social media in health insurance and why it matters to employers.

Why should an employer care if his or her company’s health insurer is active on social media?

By using social media — Facebook, Twitter, and/or LinkedIn — a business, such as a health insurer, can increase awareness of the company name and its products. But more importantly, it is also a way that the insurer can actively engage with its members and provide useful information about their health plan options and about healthier lifestyles. When a health insurer has a presence on social media sites, it increases the ways that its members — and your employees — can receive information and form connections that can reinforce healthy messages.

What makes social media especially appropriate for a health insurer?

Research indicates that social media may be helpful to individuals trying to improve their lifestyles in areas such as quitting smoking and losing weight. The reason for this is that social media encourages a group dynamic. Instead of asking people to drive to a specific location to be part of a group — which still remains an option, of course — individuals with similar interests can connect online and share stories. It also provides a way for health insurers to get more feedback from and information to members who are interested in using social media.

What evidence is there that social media can be an effective means of communication?

Surveys have shown that an estimated 61 percent of American adults look online for health information and that about two-thirds of those talk with others about what they discover online. Many so-called e-patients have read about someone else’s experience on an online news group, website or blog. What social media tools do is offer a new venue and a new way for people to share stories, make healthy lifestyle changes, and affect others’ lives. Of course, not everyone on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other social media channels choose to be actively engaged in online communities or chat. But with social media, everyone will have the opportunity to participate and at least build awareness of the importance of healthier lifestyles.

What are some advantages of social media in terms of customer service?

One is access. Many times people are intimidated by forms and by the technical language sometimes connected with health insurance, and they can feel more comfortable using Twitter or Facebook. Finding companies on Facebook, for those who use it frequently, is probably easier than trying to remember a company’s e-mail address or phone number. Social media can provide answers and links to resources more quickly. If there are people out there using social media to do comparison-shopping, to find information and to communicate with others, it just makes sense that a health insurer would be there as well. Also, many employees may consider social media outlets to be friendlier than other media and that will help an insurer to get its message across as well.

What are the biggest challenges facing an insurer that uses social media?

Social media is a 24/7 proposition and demands a kind of more immediate interaction that not every company is equipped or ready to deal with. There is also the challenge of adhering to HIPAA and other regulatory guidelines. Anyone using social media must be aware of the dangers of posting private or personal health information. Visitors to a Facebook page must be mindful of the information they post. But there are advantages, too.

For instance, although not on a public-facing site, UPMC Health Plan offers a Live Chat feature through its secured member portal. Any member that has a question regarding coverage, claims, etc. can connect in real-time with a member advocate. An insurer can enhance the health insurance experience in a more personal way, which is what people are accustomed to with social media, by leveraging new technologies and tools. Social media is about making connections, providing useful information and sharing ideas. It is not all things to all people, but it can be a way to touch lives and is definitely worth offering to employees.

What advantages can an employer gain by having an insurer that uses social media?

One advantage of using social media is your employees may come to see their insurer in a more personal way because it is part of an online community. The health insurer can help to facilitate communities and conversations not only among its followers, but also gain their insight and feedback on specific questions or issues.

Kelly Kimberland is the director of social marketing for UPMC Health Plan. Reach her at kimberlandka@upmc.edu or (412) 454-5273.

Published in Pittsburgh

There’s great reason for hope on the heart disease front. Never before have there been so many options for diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Two-thirds of adults survive the disease — 27 percent more than a decade ago, and impressive new technologies and techniques show tremendous promise.

While progress is impressive and risk factors well known, more Americans continue to die from heart failure than any other disease. While hereditary factors play a role, poor lifestyle choices remain the main culprit.

To learn more, Smart Business turned to Robert Greenfield, M.D., a cardiologist and lipidologist and the medical director of Non-Invasive Cardiology at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center; and Jason Shen, M.D., a Board Certified Cardiologist at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center.

What risk factors are most prevalent?

Smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyles and heavy consumption of saturated fats and trans fats are prevalent among too many Americans. These negatively impact cholesterol counts and blood pressure levels and can cause dangerous plaque build-up in coronary arteries. Too often, these are adopted by children who mirror their parents’ unhealthy habits. With one in three children and teens in California overweight, the elevated number of kids with risk factors for heart disease — high body-mass index, glucose intolerance, elevated blood pressure and high cholesterol — translates into higher risks of chronic disease as an adult. That’s why family fitness is essential.

How can risks be minimized?

Studies show that lowering cholesterol and treating high blood pressure reduce the risk of dying of heart disease, having a non-fatal heart attack and needing heart bypass surgery or angioplasty. Preventive measures include maintaining an appropriate weight and eating foods low in cholesterol and fat. Reducing stress, controlling blood pressure and exercising regularly are important, as well as getting regular check-ups and screenings and following a doctor’s advice.

How do heart attack symptoms vary among men and women?

For women — more of whom die of heart disease than men — symptoms can be so subtle they may not suspect they’re in trouble. Symptoms may include nausea, dizziness, uncomfortable pressure, tightness or heaviness in the chest that doesn’t go away quickly; cold sweats or pounding heart; pain radiating up the shoulders or neck or down the arms or back; difficulty breathing; and/or shortness of breath. Men, on the other hand, tell us they experience a crushing chest pain, as if an elephant were sitting on their chest.

What advances are available locally?

The residents of Orange County are fortunate to have access to world class heart care. Advanced and innovative diagnostic technologies, treatments and rehabilitation for heart disease are the norm at MemorialCare hospitals. These include open heart surgery, angioplasty, stenting and device implantation such as internal defibrillators and pacemakers. In addition, heart and vascular services offer catheter ablation, rehabilitation and centers for cardiac care for women. We are among just a few designated cardiac paramedic receiving centers in Orange County with emergency treatment times that beat the national average.

MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Orange Coast Memorial is the region’s first hospital, and one of a handful in the U.S., to introduce a Hybrid Cardiovascular Interventional Suite. This revolutionary approach to heart care allows our cardiac specialists to provide both interventional treatments and surgery in one suite, reducing procedure time and stress on patients. Based on diagnosis and condition, we may provide angiography, angioplasty, bypass surgery or combinations of these treatments in the Hybrid Suite.

Saddleback Memorial is a pioneer in beating heart surgery, which is surgery performed without stopping the heart. This can result in better preservation of heart function, reduced hospital stays and quicker recoveries. We received the American Heart Association’s Get With The Guidelines Heart Failure Gold Performance Award, honoring our achievements in attaining stringent guidelines for treating heart failure patients. Our advances continue with the new center dedicated to managing heart disease and other chronic conditions.

How can we create a healthier workplace?

Current research reveals that a healthy lifestyle is your best defense against many diseases. This means that the workplace can be the source to better health. Employers, including MemorialCare, offer programs and screenings for employees that includes nutrition education, exercise tips and organized health activities, such as break times for walking groups. They can provide healthy lifestyle choices by ensuring there is an availability of a variety of choices of fruits, vegetables and nutritious foods in vending machines and eating places.

The Memorialcare.com website offers health tools and calculators that help evaluate risks for a number of diseases. It is a resource for health guides for heart attack symptoms, heart-healthy eating and women’s wellness. MemorialCare hospitals offer prevention programs and heart evaluations at your worksite and other convenient locations.

Robert Greenfield, M.D., is a cardiologist, lipidologist and medical director of Non-Invasive Cardiology at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center.

Jason Shen, M.D., is a board certified cardiologist at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center. The not-for-profit MemorialCare Health System includes Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach, Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley and Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills and San Clemente. For additional information on excellence in health care, please visit memorialcare.org.

Published in Orange County

Treatment of heart disease is making substantial strides. Thanks to medical advances, two-thirds of adults survive heart attacks; and every child with congenital heart disease has potential to live a long, normal, productive life. However, challenges persist in convincing people to adopt common sense approaches to heart health.

Smart Business turned to national experts Gabriel Vorobiof, M.D., medical director of Non-Invasive Cardiology, Imaging and Heart Failure at the Long Beach Memorial Medical Center and Richard Swensson, M.D., medical director of Pediatric Cardiology at Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach.

Is heart disease gender or age specific?

Heart diseases can arise from two main causes — those that are acquired (coronary heart disease, valvular disease, congestive heart failure) and those that are congenital (structural problems acquired prior to birth). Heart disease, therefore, can really be thought of as an equal-opportunity condition. Acquired cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States, responsible for more deaths than all forms of cancer, chronic lung disease, pneumonia, diabetes and accidents combined.

In adults, death rates from cardiovascular causes declined 27 percent just in the last decade, largely a testament to improvement in detection and treatment of a variety of cardiovascular conditions. Congenital heart disease affects one of every 100 babies and, if it is left untreated, complications may develop, which can be difficult to reverse as they reach adulthood.

How do heart attack symptoms differ between men and women?

Most Americans do recognize chest pain as a symptom of a heart attack, the most visible symptom of heart disease, but in a national study, only 27 percent were aware of major symptoms. While men report crushing chest pain — like an elephant sitting on their chest — for many women, symptoms may be more subtle, and they may not realize they’re in danger. Women may experience nausea, dizziness, uncomfortable pressure, tightness or heaviness in the chest that doesn’t go away quickly; cold sweats or pounding heart; pain that radiates up the shoulders or neck or down the arms or back; difficulty with breathing; and/or shortness of breath.

Can the risks be minimized?

The dangerous coronary artery plaque deposits typically start building in youngsters and teens. Help children get a healthy start by changing or controlling the risk factors leading to heart disease as adults. Set an example. Eat foods that are low in cholesterol and saturated fat and free of trans fats. Exercise, reducing stress, regular checkups, screenings, following your doctor’s advice and not smoking reduce risks. Elevated cholesterol earlier in life can lead to long-term damage, so monitor cholesterol and blood pressure levels of all family members.

What expertise is available locally?

MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Long Beach Memorial, acclaimed leader in cardiovascular care and research, rates among the top 3 percent nationally and 1 percent statewide for heart attack survival and pioneering diagnostic tests and treatments. We’re home to a new generation of cardiac imaging that yields information about the heart we never dreamed possible before — all without incisions or other invasive means. We can identify a wide range of heart problems safely, quickly and accurately so patients receive timely and effective care. We perform the most robotic heart surgeries in the West using Da Vinci robot technology that offers minimally invasive capabilities with greater surgical benefits. We’re the West’s only hospital successfully implanting a heart detection device in heart attack survivors. With 35 percent of female and 20 percent of male survivors at danger of a second heart attack occurring within the first year, the device helps reduce time getting to the ER by monitoring and analyzing a patient’s heart data from within their hearts.

The Miller Children’s Pediatric Cardiac Center and Fetal Heart Program provide total prenatal, infant, pediatric and young adult heart care for patients with congenital or acquired heart disease or who have a family history of heart problems. The board-certified pediatric cardiologists that are in the hospital 24/7 are supported by a pediatric cardiac team, providing comprehensive care, from diagnoses, treatments and surgeries to extensive post-operative, follow-up and preventive care. Hospital and satellite Cardiology Outpatient Pediatric Specialty Centers provide extensive evaluation and management of children with a wide range of heart disease. With advanced minimally invasive interventions, such as interventional cardiac catheterization and robotic heart surgery, Miller Children’s is among the state’s most advanced pediatric heart centers.

How can businesses create a more heart healthy workplace?

Healthier employees are typically more productive and happier. Encourage taking stairs instead of the elevator; offer walking programs at breaks. Engage employees’ families in prevention to extend healthy habits at home. Partner with hospitals on worksite wellness and screenings.

Visit www.memorialcare.org/heart for heart guides, health tools and calculators that help with evaluating risks for many diseases.

Gabriel Vorobiof, M.D., is medical director of Non-Invasive Cardiology, Imaging and Heart Failure at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center.

Richard Swensson, M.D., is medical director of Pediatric Cardiology at Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach. The not-for-profit MemorialCare Health System includes Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach, Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley and Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills and San Clemente. For additional information on excellence in health care, please visit www.memorialcare.org.

Published in Los Angeles

As a business leader, it’s hard to avoid the stress and strains of the job that can lead to high blood pressure. If you’re suffering from high blood pressure, medication can help control the disease, but there are many things you can do to help control your blood pressure before resorting to taking drugs, says Julie Sich, the health promotions coordinator for SummaCare, Inc.

“Lifestyle changes can play an important part in lowering high blood pressure, reducing or delaying the need for medication,” says Sich. “It may be difficult for busy executives to find the time to eat right and exercise, but the consequences of not doing so could be fatal.”

Smart Business spoke with Sich about how changing the way you live can help change your blood pressure for the better.

What is high blood pressure, and what steps can someone with high blood pressure take to lower it?

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, occurs when blood moves through the arteries at a higher-than-normal pressure. A normal blood pressure is 120/80 or lower, while anything up to 140/90 is considered prehypertension, which develops into hypertension when numbers top 140/90. Failure to act to treat it can damage your blood vessels, increasing your risk of stroke, kidney failure, heart disease and heart attack. According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer in the United States — more than 2,600 die each day as a result of it. Many people who are suffering from it are unaware that they have the disease.

Being overweight plays a large role in contributing to causing high blood pressure. Losing just 10 pounds could both help reduce your blood pressure and, if you are taking medication for the condition, help improve the effectiveness of the drugs.

But it’s not just the number on the scale that’s important — it’s also where you’re carrying the weight. Those who tend to store weight around their waists are at higher risk of high blood pressure and should take steps to lose the excess weight.

Regular exercise will not only help you lose weight but can also help lower your blood pressure. Although 30 to 60 minutes a day of physical activity is recommended, even short amounts of activities such as walking, taking the stairs and parking your car farther away from your destination can have an impact.

Some studies have found that those who own a dog react less to the stressors in their lives and get the added benefits that come from walking the dog.

How can diet impact blood pressure?

One of the biggest dangers in diet is high salt content. Most adults should consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day, the equivalent of about one teaspoon. Most Americans consume nearly twice that at 4,000 milligrams a day. By switching to a low-salt diet of 1,500 milligrams a day or less, adults can begin to lower their blood pressure. To make up for the lack of salt that many people crave in their diets, spices can be used as a seasoning substitute to add flavor to food.

Many prepared foods are very high in sodium, so stay away from packaged foods such as frozen dinners, pizza and soup. Instead, prepare fresh foods with a focus on fruits and vegetables, which are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber, and low in calories, in addition to whole grains and low-fat dairy items.

The American Heart Association recommends at least 4.5 cups per day of fruits and vegetables, at least two 3.5 ounce servings of oily fish per week, at least three 1-ounce equivalent servings of fiber-rich whole grains each day and no more than 36 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages per week. Also, limit intake of food that is high in dietary cholesterol, transfats and added sugar. Instead, choose items such as skinless lean meats and poultry prepared without added fat and salt, and unrefined whole-grain foods that contain fiber.

Although studies have shown that alcohol consumption can have a positive impact on heart health, it can also have the opposite effect if consumed in excess. Aim for no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two per day for men.

Finally, limit caffeine consumption, and if you smoke, take steps to quit, as inhaling smoke — either directly or second hand — increases the risk of high blood pressure.

What role does stress play in high blood pressure?

Stress can increase blood pressure, and the longer the stress continues, the bigger impact it can have on heart health. Identify what your stressors are and try to find ways to lessen or eliminate them. Absent that, identify coping strategies such as meditation that can help you better manage your stress.

How can employers help employees take steps to be healthy?

Employers should identify trends in the workplace and work to address health issues among employees. Changing unhealthy behaviors before they lead to chronic disease can help a company control its health insurance costs, as 75 percent of an employer’s health care costs and productivity losses can, in some form, be traced back to lifestyle choices made by employees.

An outside provider can help you find out what ails your work force and determine which triggers are issues among employees. By targeting existing issues, you can ensure that your employees stay happy, healthy and on the job.

Julie Sich is the health promotions coordinator for SummaCare, Inc. Reach her at (330) 996-8779 or sichj@summacare.com. SummaCare offers a full line of health plans and ancillary products. Through its extensive network of more than 7,000 providers and more than 50 hospitals, SummaCare offers coverage to more than 115,000 members throughout northern Ohio.

Published in Akron/Canton