By Bill Hendrick

Piedmont Healthcare is putting on a marketing blitz to encourage people to take care of their hearts, offering free face-to-face screenings to those who flunk an online test devised by cardiologists and computer wizards.

The test, at piedmontheart.org, takes about seven minutes to complete. Of the first 1,000 people who took the quiz, more than 250 were deemed to be at some degree of risk for cardiovascular problems and therefore in need of a consult, said Jeff Garrison, Piedmont’s director of clinical cardiology.

The test asks questions about your age, sex, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, height, weight, whether you smoke or ever have, and how often you exercise and for how long.

All the while, your computer screen supplies important but sometimes frightening reading material, such as asserting that 33 percent of heart attacks occur in people under 65 and that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States.

You’re asked for your ZIP code, ethnic origin, and whether you take a baby aspirin (81 milligrams) on a regular basis or any medications for arthritis.

At the end, the site gets personal, telling you whether you’re at risk and asking whether you want to be called about a free screening.

The numbers used by computer experts to devise the test are from the famed Framingham Heart Study, and the results are based on your answers and known probabilities.

Dr. Szilard Voros, the chief of prevention, wellness and women’s heart disease at the Piedmont Heart Institute, said the online test will be a lifesaver for many people.

The hospital company has put up billboards and is running radio spots aimed at getting people to have their hearts checked. It also has purchased a state-of-the-art CT scanner that can reduce diagnosis time from hours and days to minutes.

Voros said the $125 scans can save lives by detecting hard and soft plaques in arteries.

He said the hospital’s Aquilion ONE Dynamic Volume CT Scanner is the first of its kind in the state. The computerized test is a “great tool,” he said.

He called the scanner “breakthrough technology” and said it exposes patients to far less radiation than other CT machines.

“With this one, it’s just like a quick snapshot with a camera,” Voros said. “It’s clear.”