Dr. Heather Johnson Leads MyHEART to Help Young Adults Manage Hypertension

More than 10 million adults in the US under the age of 40 have high blood pressure. Only 35 percent have successfully managed to control their blood pressure to normal or borderline levels (<140/90 mmHg). But for GenX and Millennial patients, getting information about how to address their hypertension via printed pamphlets from a doctor’s office usually doesn’t hit the mark. 

Heather Johnson, MD, MS, associate professor, Cardiovascular Medicine, is leading an effort to change this through a program and website, MyHEART (myheartmychoice.org), aimed at helping young adults live a healthier life, lower their blood pressure, and prevent heart disease. The program also provides a toolkit with information for providers and administrators about how they can use the website with their patients and market it within their organization. 

“When we worked with diverse focus groups of young adult hypertension patients and their providers, we found that brochures about blood pressure management weren’t making it past the waiting room recycle bins,” says Dr. Johnson. “If the brochure showed a picture of someone who was perceived as older than themselves, or if they felt it didn’t offer new information, they would discard it.” 

Young adults with hypertension face serious risk of cardiovascular disease. Years of strain on blood vessels causes increased rates of heart failure, stroke, and chronic kidney disease. “We know that hypertension control in young adults is a tremendous benefit not only to their health and longevity but also for reducing healthcare costs,” says Dr. Johnson, who is co-director of the UW Health Advanced Hypertension Program. 

Dr Heather Johnson“We need to empower young adults learning about healthy lifestyle changes by providing evidence-based information in a way that’s convenient and accessible to them, not in a format that makes them feel powerless or older than their age.”   

Funded through a grant from the UW Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, the MyHEART web site and related social media accounts offer information about how to check and monitor blood pressure (My Heart), evidence-based actions for stress management, diet, exercise, and avoiding tobacco and alcohol (My Choice), and resources for successful hypertension management (My Support). 

Dr. Johnson worked in collaboration with Jamie LaMantia, associate administrative program specialist, Collen Brown, associate information processing consultant for the UW Health Innovation Program, and Diane Lauver, PhD and Barbara Bowers, PhD, MSN from the UW School of Nursing. MyHEART content was developed in response to focus groups comprised of young adults with hypertension (45% Black) and one-on-one interviews of primary care providers in academic, urban, and rural Wisconsin healthcare systems. The Wisconsin Network for Research Support (WINRS) and their lay advisory group, the Community Advisors on Research Design and Strategies (CARDS®), partnered with the MyHEART team to enable cycles of usability tests and revisions prior to launch of the web site. 

Iterative cycles of marketing are underway in collaboration with local, regional, and national partners. Future updates to the MyHEART site will include a Spanish-language version and additional interactive elements. 

“The MyHEART web site is another tool that patients and providers can use to help young adults get the information they need to live longer and healthier lives. It also complements other aspects of the MyHEART primary care coach intervention which includes telephone-based self-management counseling, home blood pressure monitoring, and electronic health record documentation of coach-participant telephone contacts,” says Dr. Johnson. 

The effort is supported by partnership with the University of Wisconsin Health Innovation Program and the UW-Madison School of Nursing, with additional support from UW Health.  It is also supported by the Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) program, previously through the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) grant 1UL1RR025011, and now by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), grant UL1TR000427.