Erica Spatz, MD, MHS, is a general cardiologist who treats a variety of conditions that relate to the heart and circulatory system. In addition to emphasizing prevention to her patients, she is an active researcher who investigates ways to prevent heart attacks and strokes, so that more people can live long and healthy lives.
“The field of prevention is exciting. We are rapidly developing new ways of estimating people’s risk of future heart disease, and we have new medications and tools to reduce that risk,” says Dr. Spatz, who is especially interested in applying “precision medicine” to prevention. This is making conversations with patients in her practice more specific and less generic. “I am thinking, ‘What are the patient’s risk factors? What's unique about their biology, their genetics, and their biography? What are the aspects of their lives that may be contributing to cardiovascular risk or, on the contrary, promoting cardiovascular health? What might be the best strategies for reducing risk and improving their health outcomes?’ The onus is on us as clinicians, physicians, nurses, and pharmacists, to really understand the person before us.”
We need to be working at multiple levels to reduce heart disease, Spatz says. “We need strong policies and coordinated community efforts to promote healthier lifestyles and overall well-being. There is so much we can be doing to make ‘healthy’ the easy choice for our population. At the individual level, there is an opportunity to better capture the personalized biological factors, experiences, and behaviors that inform cardiovascular risk—through digital technology and surveys.”
Lifestyle changes are often considered the bedrock of preventing heart disease, and while this can be difficult for some people—especially if they are overwhelmed with other life challenges—small achievable goals go a long way, Dr. Spatz says. “I try to think about this from a lifelong perspective. Cardiovascular disease prevention is hard work and people can't be perfect all the time, so I try to find specific things people can work on as well as opportunities when this makes sense in a person's life. If I can help them to define a healthier path, then I think the ripple effects can be massive.”
In addition to caring for patients, Dr. Spatz serves as a clinical investigator for the Center for Outcomes Research & Evaluation (CORE), an organization at Yale School of Medicine that focuses on health care quality, where she researches individualized approaches to preventing and managing cardiovascular disease, health disparities across the health care system, and ways to engage patients as partners in their care. She also is a cofounder of Project Access-New Haven—a network of physicians, hospitals, and community organizations partnering to provide donated specialty care to underserved patients in New Haven.