Despite its value and importance, cardiac rehabilitation is vastly underutilized by patients recovering from heart events, according to a paper published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology that advocates for a new model of cardiac rehab delivery.
Cardiac rehab was first created in the 1930s for patients recovering from heart attacks, allowing for bed rest and restricted physical activity. It has since evolved into a comprehensive program that helps patients not only physically recover from a heart event but also teaches individuals the skills needed to improve heart health. As such, there is strong evidence showing the importance of cardiac rehab in helping patients make healthy lifestyle changes, improve quality of life and reduce risk of a future heart event.
The problem, as the study authors explain, is that cardiac rehab is underutilized for a number of reasons. To start, patients are not consistently referred to cardiac rehab, even when they could benefit greatly from such support—especially women, the elderly, ethnic minorities and individuals with lower income. Among those who are referred to a program, barriers like transportation, work schedules and affordability prevent many individuals from enrolling. In fact, studies show that fewer than half of heart attack patients who receive referrals to cardiac rehab enroll within six months following their event.
Experts hope to address these barriers by rebranding cardiac rehab and using innovative strategies to address barriers to enrollment. For example, internet-based, home-based and community-based programs may provide useful alternatives to the standard delivery of cardiac rehab, especially for patients at low or intermediate risk for a second event. Efforts to increase referrals to such rehab programs are also essential, as most patients can benefit greatly from education and support in improving their cardiovascular health. By addressing barriers and better meeting the needs of patients, experts hope that increased uptake of cardiac rehab will connect more patients with the care they need.