Patients' perceptions of cholesterol, cardiovascular disease risk, and risk communication strategies

Roberta E. Goldman, Donna R. Parker, Charles B. Eaton, Jeffrey M. Borkan, Robert Gramling, Rebecca T. Cover, David K. Ahern

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

87 Scopus citations


PURPOSE: Despite some recent improvement in knowledge about cholesterol in the United States, patient adherence to cholesterol treatment recommendations remains suboptimal. We undertook a qualitative study that explored patients' perceptions of cholesterol and cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk and their reactions to 3 strategies for communicating CVD risk. METHODS: We conducted 7 focus groups in New England using open-ended questions and visual risk communication prompts. The multidisciplinary study team performed qualitative content analysis through immersion/crystallization processes and analyzing coded reports using NVivo qualitative coding software. RESULTS: All participants were aware that "high cholesterol" levels adversely affect health. Many had, however, inadequate knowledge about hypercholesterolemia and CVD risk, and few knew their cholesterol numbers. Many assumed they had been tested and their cholesterol concentrations were healthy, even if their physicians had not mentioned it. Standard visual representations showing statistical probabilities of risk were assessed as confusing and uninspiring. A strategy that provides a cardiovascular risk-adjusted age was evaluated as clear, memorable, relevant, and potentially capable of motivating people to make healthful changes. A few participants in each focus group were concerned that a cardiovascular risk-adjusted age that was greater than chronological age would frighten patients. CONCLUSIONS: Complex explanations about cholesterol and CVD risk appear to be insufficient for motivating behavior change. A cardiovascular risk-adjusted age calculator is one strategy that may engage patients in recognizing their CVD risk and, when accompanied by information about risk reduction, may be helpful in communicating risk to patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)205-212
Number of pages8
JournalAnnals of family medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Communication
  • Health promotion
  • Hypercholesterolemia
  • Informatics
  • Medical decision-making
  • Methodological study
  • Patient education
  • Qualitative research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Family Practice


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