Blue Shield of California offers virtual access to Ornish Lifestyle Medicine's cardiac rehab program

Blue Shield of California is expanding its partnership with Ornish Lifestyle Medicine, making the cardiac rehabilitation program available virtually to its members.

Blue Shield members could access the program's services previously in-person at Marin Health and UCLA Health. Now, they can connect via four-hour sessions twice weekly over the course of nine weeks. Each session splits time equally between stress management, peer support, exercise and interactive lessons.

Participants are also provided with two weeks' worth of healthy meals and the tools to monitor their conditions, including a heart rate monitor, blood pressure cuff and exercise and relaxation equipment.

Blue Shield is offering the program to members who have had a cardiac event or have a heart disease history in its employer-sponsored, individual and family and Medicare PPO plans.

Jennifer Christian-Herman, vice president of MindBody Medicine at Blue Shield of California, told Fierce Healthcare that the insurer was pleased with the results that it was seeing by offering the program in-person, but expanding to cover the program virtually allows even more people to access it.

"We definitely have heard from members about how it has changed their lives," she said. "And so we have been excited about the opportunity to offer this program virtually just knowing that we can touch so many members in that way."

The 159 people who accessed the program in-person saw significant clinical results over the nine weeks, including a 71.4% drop in angina and a 23.3% decrease in total cholesterol. In addition, patients saw a 36.8% decrease in LDL cholesterol, a 10% decrease in triglycerides and a 3.5% decrease in A1c levels.

In addition, the program led to a 20.1% increase in exercise levels and had a payoff for mental health with a 40.4% decrease in depression.

Dean Ornish, M.D., founder of the program, told Fierce Healthcare that the team initially believed that the program was "too high-tech and too high-touch" for it to work as a virtual offering, but the COVID-19 pandemic changed that perception.

With a virtual option, the team now has the opportunity to reach underserved communities and address inequities in cardiovascular care, he said.

"We realized that people can do this anywhere," Ornish said. "They no longer have to live near a hospital or clinic or physician group."

"That in turn helps reduce health disparities and health inequities because you can live in a rural area, you can live in a food desert, you can live anywhere, really, and do this in the comfort of your own home," he said.