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Are you getting the most out of your annual stress test?

Consider ditching the treadmill and implementing this three-step program


Sponsored by MET-TEST

By FireRescue1 BrandFocus Staff

If you had the choice between driving a Honda or a Mercedes, and they both cost you the same amount, which would you pick?

While annual stress tests are unavoidable for those in the fire industry, it’s important to make sure that the data can provide meaningful changes for superior outcomes.
While annual stress tests are unavoidable for those in the fire industry, it’s important to make sure that the data can provide meaningful changes for superior outcomes. (MET-TEST)

That’s the analogy that Dr. Sundeep Chaudhry, chief medical officer of MET-TEST, uses to describe traditional treadmill tests compared to the cardiopulmonary exercise test (CPET) his company offers to firefighters.

While annual stress tests are unavoidable for those in the fire industry, it’s important to make sure that the data can provide meaningful changes for superior outcomes. Instead of relying on the limited information a treadmill test can provide, first responders have the option of gaining an advanced understanding of their cardiovascular and pulmonary health with MET-TEST – for roughly the same cost.

MET-TEST implements a three-step program to help first responders improve their well-being and lower their risk of death from cancer, heart disease and other chronic conditions.

WHAT IS MET-TEST?

A typical stress test involves walking on a treadmill while your heart rate and blood pressure are monitored. By starting at a slow speed, doctors can slowly increase the speed of the treadmill to induce stress and see how an individual’s heart reacts. The test’s EKG readout is supposed to indicate if there’s a cardiovascular issue present, but in a lot of instances, it doesn’t.

“If you pick something up on the EKG, then you have a problem and you need to look at it,” said Chaudhry. “Most of the time, you’re not going to pick anything up. Unless you fall over and have a heart attack, it’s not going to really tell you much.”

But the vast majority of treadmill tests are found to be deceptively normal. Of the few that are reported as abnormal, further evaluation and treatment will include invasive, unnecessary and expensive procedures. Research over the last 20 years has shown that such procedures in asymptomatic individuals do not improve their clinical outcomes.

MET-TEST, however, works to shift the focus from diagnosing developed heart disease to preventing it. MET-TEST’s CPET is able to detect and track heart disease and cardiac dysfunction in its earliest stages.

“This way, we can help first responders avoid those unnecessary procedures and make sure all of the ‘false-normal’ tests don’t become future problems,” said Chaudhry.

Through a combination of the earliest detection with aggressive risk factor management, MET-TEST successfully decreases hospitalizations, ineffective and invasive procedures, and subsequent healthcare costs.

In order to provide first responders with more concrete information about their health, MET-TEST developed a three-step program that offers measurable, actionable health data.

STEP 1 – TAKING THE TEST

The MET-TEST process starts with a CPET, which is conducted on a stationary bicycle and gradually increases the intensity of your body’s movement, similar to a treadmill test.

Unlike a treadmill test, however, CPET uses breath-by-breath analysis to record oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production. In contrast to the limited information given during a treadmill stress test, Chaudhry says several hundred data points and multiple parameters are analyzed to assess heart and lung function in real-time. This process is 400% more sensitive than a treadmill stress EKG at detecting asymptomatic heart disease.

Once the test is complete, your data is sent electronically to MET-TEST’s headquarters in Atlanta, where a team of highly trained specialists uses the company’s proprietary software, created from over 18 years of patient testing, to be processed.

“A concise, clear report is then created with suggestions on how to best use the information gathered,” said Chaudhry.

STEP 2 – MAKING A PLAN

The report generated by MET-TEST is sent to your provider and gives a detailed picture of your cardiovascular and pulmonary health. Since MET-TEST is based on physiology and parameters specific to each individual, providers are able to develop personalized treatment plans.

In addition, each responder’s goals for the next test are outlined to establish realistic expectations for improvement. If the individualized recommendations are effectively implemented, this approach can reduce the risk for future health problems by as much as 80%.

Chaudhry illustrates the usefulness of the report with the analogy of a car engine.

“Think of your heart as the engine of a car. The better the engine and its components, the more efficient and powerful your car will be – not to mention you’ll have fewer breakdowns,” said Chaudhry.

Depending on your individual parameters – your age, weight and proverbial “engine” – your provider may recommend one or more lifestyle changes, including diet modifications, exercise plans or medication. If serious health concerns are present, a referral to a specialist may be required.

STEP 3 – TRACKING RESULTS OVER TIME

As with any lifestyle change, results don’t happen overnight. That’s why Chaudhry stresses that annual CPETs are the key to long-term improvement. Serial testing allows first responders to get insight into the effectiveness of their treatment plan as well as keep them aware of their overall health trajectory. It’s through repeat testing that MET-TEST has seen so many success stories of first responders and their improvements.

“Let’s see if we can improve the power of that engine,” said Chaudhry. “Six months from now we do the same test, the same protocol, the same software, same everything. Here it goes, at maximum RPMs, how much horsepower are you putting out? By looking at that, you could safely say if it improved from the medication or exercise you’re doing.”

In most circumstances, first responders will see that improved CPET results will be accompanied by improved blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol and sleep apnea. MET-TEST also provides a window to the administration to monitor the overall health of their population through HIPAA-compliant analytical reporting features.

MAKING INFORMED DECISIONS

Unlike a desk job where a person’s health won’t significantly impact their performance, being a firefighter requires an individual to maintain a certain level of health and fitness. The detailed data collected by MET-TEST helps first responders manage their health and also helps fire leaders make informed decisions.

“We have tested many firefighters in Arizona, and literally the chiefs are saying, ‘We’ve seen direct improvement in the capabilities of our firefighters,’” said Chaudhry. “When we see someone who’s possibly struggling, we have the tools needed to get them back on track.”

The reports created by MET-TEST do not include personal health details for each person in a department, but they do give chiefs broad data about the individuals they work with. Ultimately, it’s up to each first responder to decide how much information they want to disclose to their administration.

HOW TO GET MET-TEST IN YOUR AREA

First responders can have all the tools they need to improve their health with MET-TEST, but accessibility may be an issue. Firefighters are encouraged to speak with their health providers and express a desire for more comprehensive testing.

“They can go to their wellness officer or provider and say, ‘Hey, you need to use CPET. You can’t be doing just a stress test and sending us home because it’s not really working,’” said Chaudhry.

As more first responders request CPET testing in their area, METTEST hopes it becomes the new gold standard of stress tests and heart disease prevention.

Visit MET-TEST for more information.

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