'Virtual' rehabilitation program can reduce heart disease risk

October 01, 2014

virtual cardiac rehabilitation program
Image adapted from original by Online Trading Academy

A new study focused on web-based cardiac rehabilitation found a virtual program reduced heart disease risk in patients. The study, led by CHS Director Dr. Scott Lear, developed and tested a rehabilitation program that offered monitoring, education and support to heart disease patients living in small urban and rural areas throughout British Columbia.

Heart disease is a leading cause of death and disability in Canada and worldwide. Cardiac rehabilitation programs are effective treatment options for patients with heart disease to prevent heart attacks and premature death. However, accessibility to these programs largely impacts how much people will use them.

“Because these programs are generally administered within hospitals or health centres, many people find them inconvenient or unfeasible to attend,” said Dr. Lear who also holds the Pfizer/Heart and Stroke Foundation Chair in Cardiovascular Research at St. Paul’s Hospital. “Our virtual program brought care into patients’ homes to help manage their disease and reduce their risk for heart disease, all at a time dictated by the patient.”

Typically, only 10-30 percent of eligible patients participate in cardiac rehabilitation programs. Barriers include travel distance to the program, the time commitment and the inconvenience of maintaining a regimented schedule. The impact is especially great in rural and remote areas, where heart disease rates tend to be higher, yet access is a primary challenge.

As the study authors show, the virtual program may be the answer to tackling these barriers and to meeting the increasing health care demands and associated costs of an aging population. They found that after 16 weeks in the program, patients improved their exercise capacity, diet and cholesterol levels, and all of these changes were still present a year after the program ended. Additionally, those who participated in the program saw a lower number of hospital visits. The drop-out rates and required staff time of the virtual program were also lower than in-person care, making this a safe, effective and economical solution for providing preventative care to heart disease patients. The study was published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

“Cardiac rehabilitation programs are key to managing patients with heart disease, but not everyone can attend, so we need new ways such as the ‘virtual’ program to help reach more patients,” said Dr. Andrew Ignaszewski, cardiologist lead at St. Paul’s Hospital and a co-author.

Following the success of this project, Dr. Lear and researchers are looking to implement the program into standard health care.

Funding for this study was provided by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of BC and Yukon and in part by Canada Health Infoway.

Additional Readings

ARTICLE: Randomized Trial of a Virtual Cardiac Rehabilitation Program Delivered at a Distance via the Internet

Virtual Cardiac Rehabilitation Program study page