Researchers help boost attendance at life-saving health checks
Researchers from Staffordshire University believe that using new methods of risk communication will encourage more people to attend potentially life-saving health checks.
All English adults aged 40 to 74 are invited to a free NHS Health Check to assess their risk of heart disease, but recent figures show that only half of those who are eligible actually attend.
Dr Naomi Ellis, Senior Lecturer in Physical Activity and Health, and Dr Chris Gidlow, Associate Professor in Health and Exercise, have been conducting research into why patients do not attend their health check.
“Increasing uptake for NHS Health Checks is a national priority and here in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire, we are working with the Public Health teams to explore new ways of increasing uptake.” said Chris.
“Health Checks are a really important way of allowing people to identify and then manage their risk of cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions.”
Over 40 patients from general practices in Stoke-on-Trent, who didn’t attend their appointments, were interviewed as part of the research.
“There seems to be a lack of awareness of the health check programme and many people don’t understand why they need to go.” explained Naomi.
“When they get the letter through the post they often don’t realise its importance or see why it is relevant to them, so they are not motivated to act.”
Naomi believes the invitations need to make more of an impact and be personally relevant to the reader.
“One idea is to use tailor the invitations to peoples’ individual level of disease risk.” said Naomi.
“For example, if you receive a letter from your doctor saying that you have a 20% chance of having a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years, then it will hopefully make you realise that you need to do something about it.”
Naomi and Chris are about to undertake further research to see if including this kind of personalised risk message - based on information from GP records such as cholesterol levels, blood pressure, family history, and height and weight - in the health check invitation will encourage more people to attend.
The research project will run for 12 months, with trial invitations being sent to over 1,000 patients from practices in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire.
“We really want to find a simple way to help people make the most of the Health Check opportunity. The feedback from the interviews has been really interesting and has led us to being that bit closer to understanding what we can do to improve uptake.”
‘A qualitative investigation of non-response in NHS health checks’, has recently been published in the online journal Archives of Public Health.
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