The recent, confusing, conflicting news about new statin guidelines presents a perfect opportunity for your practice to use technology to solve a pressing problem — and engage with patients.

To recap briefly,  new statin guidelines were released on Tuesday by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology. The new guidelines include changes to both the recommended LDL targets for patients currently on statins (potentially reducing frequent blood testing for many patients) and the types of patients who should be on statins (potentially increasing substantially the numbers of patients who could be prescribed the drugs).  Additionally, the guidelines could affect the frequency of prescribing of drugs like Zetia that are intended to work alongside statins.

But the new guidelines are controversial.  The New York Times attempted to illuminate the many angles to these new guidelines and also pointed out that the new recommendations are controversial within the medical community.  It quoted a cardiologist from the Cleveland Clinic noting that physicians may have different ideas on how to respond — and that some may not change their recommendations to their patients.  The article has already attracted nearly 700 comments — many very forceful and signed by physicians.

Now, just two days later, the Times has published a strong opinion piece against the new statin guidelines.

For cardiology, primary care, and other practices that prescribe statins and treat related issues like diabetes, these reports are likely starting to prompt calls from concerned patients.  Handling an unexpected flurry of these sorts of calls can be very disruptive — and can lead to some unhappy, stressed-out patients if they’re unable to get through to discuss their concerns.

It’s likely, though, that physicians in your practice have already begun crafting standard responses.  For example, perhaps your physicians have already told staff to tell patients that call in asking, “should I stop taking Zetia?” to continue their current treatment plan but make an appointment if they would like to discuss whether changing it makes sense in their case.

Sharing links to articles that your physicians believe explain the new guidelines in an appropriate and understandable way can be a great use of your blog or social media page, and it can save a lot of time.  If your practice has standard responses to certain questions, posting them can help avoid a phone backlog — and can help your patients get what they need faster.  Even your phone system’s hold messages can help — add a customized message spotlighting key news items like this recent statin announcement, and include a special message from your physician(s).  (Of course, before posting any clinical information, even general information, be sure it’s vetted by your physician(s).)

Your EHR or PMS can also play a helpful role, by allowing you to systematically identify patients who could be affected by the announcement for specific follow-up actions established by your providers. (You may even be able to complete a needed Meaningful Use objective in doing so — e.g., compiling lists of patients that should be seen in light of the new guidelines, or preparing/providing educational resources for patients in that target group.)

All of these efforts do double duty by helping your patients help themselves and save time, which makes them feel more cared for and satisfied with your service, while also saving your practice time and money.  Win, win!

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