Stronger Hearts Helpline Offers Heart Failure Referrals, Information

The National Forum for Heart Disease & Stroke Prevention is rolling out a free 24/7 information hotline called Stronger Hearts where callers can get referrals to care and information about heart failure. The program, which has funding from Novartis, began in February, 2015 as a pilot in San Bernardino County, CA. Its backers hope to expand the concept to other markets where demographics indicate a high prevalence of heart failure patients.

The National Forum for Heart Disease & Stroke Prevention is rolling out a free 24/7 information hotline called Stronger Hearts Helpline where callers can get referrals to care and information about heart failure.

The program, which has funding from Novartis, began in February, 2015 as a pilot in San Bernardino County, CA. Its backers hope to expand the concept to other markets where demographics indicate a high prevalence of heart failure patients.

The idea is to connect callers with providers, information on their condition, and treatment options.

Those options could increase later this year: Novartis’ potential block-buster heart failure drug, LCZ696 could get US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval as early as August, 2015. In a study known as PARADIGM-HF, researchers found that patients prescribed LCZ696 to treat heart failure with reduced ejection fraction were more likely to be alive and less likely to have been hospitalized for sudden deterioration of their heart failure than those who got enalapril, the ACE-inhibitor.

Clyde Yancy, MD, MSC, chief of cardiology at Northwestern University in Chicago, IL, said he is among those looking forward to the drug becoming available, but stressed that Novartis’ investment in setting up the helpline has nothing to do with LCZ696’s anticipated arrival. Yancy chaired the National Forum heart-failure task force that created the pilot program, a planning process that began in November, 2013.

“Heart failure is the disease du jour,” Yancy said, particularly early onset heart failure. But too often patients who receive that diagnosis feel their situation is hopeless. The helpline is meant to inform callers that there are treatments that can extend their lives and make them healthier.

San Bernardino County was chosen to be the first site for the helpline in part because it has a high prevalence of heart failure, seen in 740 Medicare patients per 100,000 residents vs. a national norm of 605 Medicare patients per 100,000 residents. The county has more than 2 million residents.

Another factor in the decision to start there was that the county has a 211 phone number that already gives callers access to a variety of programs. The helpline can be reached by calling 211. As part of the launch, the helpline is being publicized in radio announcements and its launch has been covered by local print and other broadcast media, he said.

Callers to the Stronger Hearts Helpline speak to a live operator who triages the call—either to participating physicians and clinics or to information centers. The helpline also offers assistance finding transportation to those who need it.

Sources of help and information include public health entities, Medicare, volunteers and others. “It’s all people with skin in the game,” Yancy said. The group is now looking for another area with a lot of heart failure to launch its next helpline.