While mortality rates for cardiovascular disease have declined in recent years, the gains have not been equally distributed. The burden of cardiovascular disease is disproportionately felt by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, people of lower socio-economic status, and those living in regional and remote areas.
To highlight these inequities and to monitor trends over time, the Heart Foundation has developed the Australian Heart Maps. Launched in August 2016, the maps are a national online platform for comparing heart disease indicators across states, territories, regions and local government areas.
The maps bring together different heart-related indicators in a standardised way, allowing health service planners, policy-makers, and governments to identify heart disease ‘hotspot’ areas easily and to tailor services and programs accordingly. The maps currently contain hospitalisation rates for heart admissions (from 2012-14 hospital separation data), as well as heart-related risk factors. New and updated data will be added periodically to consolidate our understanding of heart disease patterns across Australia.
The Australian Heart Maps clearly show that where you live influences your health. Remote Australia has twice the rate of heart disease hospitalisations compared to Australia’s major cities. The further a person resides away from a major city in Australia, the likelihood of being admitted to hospital for a heart attack, unstable angina or heart failure increases. In particular, the Northern Territory outback has a hospitalisation rate five times higher than Sydney’s northern suburbs. If Australians in outer regional areas and beyond had the same hospital admissions rate as those in major cities, more than 3,400 Australians would avoid a hospital visit for a serious heart event every year.
The Heart Maps also show that Australians living in outer regional and remote areas are also significantly more likely to: have high blood pressure; have high total cholesterol; be obese; smoke; and be physically inactive.
The Heart Foundation will use this data from the Australian Heart Maps to inform its strategy, tailor policy and programs and develop more targeted advocacy.
In addition, the Heart Foundation is calling on all governments – Federal, state/territory and local - to use this information to ensure all Australians have access to preventative health care and facilities to reduce their risk factors.
The Heart Foundation proposes a national heart and stroke strategy with a robust rural health component covering prevention, early detection, cardiac rehabilitation and tertiary and primary care settings. The national strategy should also focus on how technology can benefit remote areas.
Prevention measures tailored to rural and remote areas are needed.
We also need better detection and on-going management of people at high risk of heart attacks and stroke and a national audit of cardiac rehabilitation services to identify access gaps to help focus support and care after heart attack.
Further support is needed for the Lighthouse Hospital project, national project to improve the service and care Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients receive when presenting to hospital with heart attack symptoms.
Working with governments, partners and communities collectively, the Heart Foundation is confident that these evidence-based measures will begin to close the rural-metro divide in cardiovascular health outcomes.
The Australian Heart Maps are available at heartfoundation.org.au/heartmaps
For further information contact Jane Potter at [email protected]
The Heart Foundation gave a presentation on the Australian Heart Maps at the 5th Rural and Remote Health Scientific Symposium