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.

A new Heart Foundation survey found that 73 percent of heart attack survivors who attended a cardiac rehabilitation program in-person in the past six months completed the whole program, compared to just 14 percent who completed the sessions via telehealth.

The findings are being released to encourage hospitals to prioritise the return of face-to-face cardiac rehabilitation services that have been 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 it was reassuring to see cardiac rehabilitation services resuming across Australia but stressed the importance of the face-to-face model.

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, like the one we are currently seeing in WA.

“However, 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.

“For example, some 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.

“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.”

Mr Stavreski said:

“We want to see alternate models of care that are flexible and patient-centric.”

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.

“It is important that 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.”

Mr Stavreski said:  

“Cardiac rehabilitation is the best way to prevent another heart attack, stay out of hospital and get back to a good quality of life.”