Healthy hearts

Is there a better way to share self-care information for patients with heart disease using technology? Caring Futures Institute researchers are co-designing digital innovations and engaging avatars to improve heart health.

Joe wears his heart on his sleeve. It wasn’t always this way, he says. Growing up he was reserved and private. He battled depression, mostly on his own, reluctant to reach out to those around him. Nowadays he is open about his fears and shares his aspirations for the future with fervour. A lot changed for Joe when, at just 38 years old, he had a heart attack.

“You’ve got to love life!” Joe will announce, sometimes more than once in a single conversation. His enthusiasm is palpable. In the hospital after his heart attack, Joe was also told he had developed heart failure. It is a serious and lifelong condition but he was determined it wouldn’t hold him back. And now he is channelling his energy into regaining his quality of life. 

Some days are better than others, he explained. His rehab was recently derailed by a week in bed managing debilitating fatigue. “A lot of patients tell me ‘It’s really hard work being a heart failure patient’,” said Professor Robyn Clark, Flinders researcher and internationally-recognised heart health expert, “…and it is. There’s so much to think about from managing daily medication, finding ways to stay active and taking steps to keep your heart healthy.”

Finding innovative ways to help heart failure patients like Joe is why Robyn is expanding her research in the use of technology, avatars and self-care education apps. Joe met Robyn – and Bob and Mary the two new avatars – as part of a recent clinical trial. Heart attacks and heart failure can happen to anyone but more commonly affect people later in life. When Joe had a heart attack it took him by surprise and he found himself on the search for information. Since joining the trial and receiving the new Fluid Watchers app, featuring the Bob and Mary avatars, there hasn’t been a day Joe hasn’t taken this new information with him everywhere he goes.

Image above: Joe enjoying a vegetarian pizza at his favourite Italian restaurant in Adelaide.