Research takes the pulse of heart attack rehabilitation

The beating heart of rehab is traditionally person to person - until telehealth. Which is best?

Key Points

  • Research shows just 14% of heart attack patients completed a telehealth program
  • 73% of those who attended in person completed the program
  • The Heart Foundation is urging health services to return to face-to-face cardiac rehabilitation programs

The rise of telehealth as a much-touted new tech alternative to face-to-face medical treatments has been questioned.

This follows Heart Foundation research showing just 14% of heart attack victims completed all sessions of a life-saving heart rehabilitation program delivered via telehealth (ie. online and over the phone).

This compares with 73% of those who physically attended completed the program.

The Heart Foundation is urging health services to prioritise the return of face-to-face cardiac rehabilitation programs to ensure heart attack sufferers complete all sessions of the life-saving program.

Face-to-face cardiac rehabilitation services were suspended or replaced with telehealth models due to COVID-19.

Before the pandemic, face-to-face models were generally the customary way of conducting these programs.

General Manager of Heart Health, Bill Stavreski, said as restrictions have eased, face-to-face cardiac rehabilitation programs can be resumed, and telehealth should become just one of several options that can be tailored for the specific patient.

“Many Australians have benefited from the expansion of telehealth funding and new models of care during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s important that these continue given the possibility of future lockdowns."

General Manager of Heart Health, Bill Stavreski

According to the Foundation, patients require additional supervision and support during their exercise sessions and they find that participating in person in a group environment is more preferable than via telehealth.

“And we know some heart patients really value the peer-support aspect of face-to-face cardiac rehabilitation, and clinicians are able to get a feel for how a patient is feeling, looking after themselves and recovering,” Mr Stavreski said.

“Cardiac rehabilitation looks different for everyone. For some, telehealth programs will be desirable but we often hear from patients that getting out of the house to exercise and learn about heart health with people in a similar predicament is life changing.”

The survey also found that six in 10 people who had suffered a heart attack in the past five years were referred to a cardiac rehab program.

The Foundation says it is important all patients who have had a heart attack, heart surgery, or other heart or blood vessel disease are routinely referred to an appropriate cardiac rehabilitation program by a health professional.