Remote or virtual cardiovascular or cardiac rehabilitation programs are just as effective as on-site programs, according to research to be presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2020. 

Cardiac rehabilitation is a standardized, outpatient program designed to help patients with established vascular disease or heart failure after hospitalization for a heart attack, stroke, heart failure, or surgery through exercise and education. These programs can help reduce the risk of death and future heart problems. The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has made offering these services in person difficult. Many programs have been forced to switch to a telehealth platform as a result. 

Canada, where the study took place, went into a nationwide lockdown on March 17 in order to limit the spread of COVID-19. The shutdown caused Central East Cardiac Rehabilitation Program to rapidly switch from in-person, on-site clinics to virtual content within 1 week, according to the study. The virtual program included e-visits by telephone and email, as well as interactive technology, such as web-based video support and mobile apps.  

Compared with the same 6-week period in 2019, total referrals to the program increased by 33% with patient acceptance exceeding 90%. According to the study, the attendance rate was 85%.  

"We understood that virtual rehab may not be equivalent to the in-person, on-site community interaction patients were accustomed to, so we were pleasantly surprised that the virtual program was just as effective and that patient satisfaction did not decline," said lead study author Joseph A. Ricci, MD, medical director of the Central East Cardiovascular Rehabilitation Program in a press release. "The data confirm that virtual cardiac rehabilitation offers a viable solution as a result of the COVID pandemic, and also for patients in rural areas or those who have limited access to transportation."

One potential draw-back to the virtual program was that it may cost more compared with on-site delivery. According to the study, the cost per patient was almost double due to staff costs related to smaller group interactions and one-on-one patient consultation. 

REFERENCE:

Remote cardiac rehabilitation programs are effective alternatives to on-site services [News Release] November 9, 2020; Dallas, TX. Accessed November 10, 2020. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-11/aha-rcr110220.php.