Digital Programs Let You Enroll More Patients in Cardiac Rehab

Healthwise Communications Team

Cardiac rehab saves lives after a heart attack, heart failure, angioplasty, or heart surgery. Rehabilitation typically consists of three key components: exercise counseling and training, education for heart-healthy living, and counseling to reduce stress.

A lot of time and work go into cardiac rehab. It’s a team effort: Patients partner with clinicians, counselors, pharmacists, and even family and friends to achieve their goals. Traditionally, this has meant onsite classes, in-office doctor’s appointments, and group exercise. But even before COVID-19 changed the way our country accessed health care, this “team effort” approach kept a shocking 4 out of 5 cardiac patients from taking part in rehab programs.

There have always been obstacles to in-person rehabilitation.

  • Time. Not many patients want to spend several hours three times each week traveling to and attending a class.
  • Cost. Cardiac rehab classes average $75 per class. Attended three times a week, that’s $600 each month.
  • Distance. Many people live in rural areas, far away from a medical center that provides classes. This rural population also tends to be older—the key demographic for cardiac rehab.

Patient participation is the number one predictor of success in a cardiac rehabilitation program, but if only 20% of eligible patients take part, what can we do to engage the other 80% and save even more lives?

Reach More Cardiac Patients With a Digital Rehab Program

Million Hearts 2022 is a national initiative to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes within 5 years. One of their benchmark goals is to enroll 70% of cardiac patients in a rehabilitation program. But this figure will be nearly impossible to achieve without online options.

A digital health program lets people learn about and manage their conditions from home, removing the need for many of the in-person appointments and classes. Patients can access all sorts of features on their phone, tablet, or computer:

  • Exercise guides
  • Trackers
  • Assessments
  • Patient education

Enrollment is easy—most programs have an option that lets you send invitations to entire populations at once, or auto-generate invitations to patients at discharge.

It’s important to note that the programs still require a human being on the other end to interpret the information and touch base regularly with the patient. A digital option doesn’t replace clinicians and coaches, it just allows healthcare professionals to use their time more efficiently by reaching people outside the office.

Complement Your Onsite Cardiac Rehab Classes

Online tools can do a lot, but they’re not meant to completely replace face-to-face interactions. That said, when meeting face-to-face is absolutely not an option, these virtual programs can be lifesavers.

Mercy Medical Center is a perfect example of how a digital cardiac program can be used to augment in-person rehab classes—and, during an emergency, substitute for them.

Before the coronavirus hit, Mercy had already begun using the Healthwise Digital Health Programs: Cardiac Rehab Suite. Their original intent was to use it in conjunction with their onsite classes, freeing up valuable resources and making it easier for patients to participate.

  • 25% of the patients Mercy invited enrolled in the digital rehab program.
  • 37% of those patients completed most of the content.
  • 51% were gauged to have “medium engagement,” and another 24% were rated as “high engagement” (i.e., they interacted with more than 90% of the content).

Stanford, another early adopter of the digital health suite, reported a 40% enrollment rate, 76% medium engagement rate, and 14% high engagement rate.

All these numbers exceed the typical 20% participation rate for traditional onsite classes.

When COVID-19 made it harder than ever for patients to meet with clinicians, Mercy was already in prime position to switch to an all-online cardiac rehab program. Though the measure was meant to be temporary, it allowed Mercy to reach patients who still needed care during the emergency.

Take Advantage of New Medicaid Cardiac Rehab Reimbursements

The good news is that enrolling patients in digital health programs has never been easier. In October, CMS added 11 cardiac rehab services to its list of telehealth reimbursements. While the additions are described as short-term options, for the duration of the pandemic, many believe these reimbursements will become permanent.

The added services are the latest attempt to combat the effects of COVID-19 on people with underlying conditions, including heart disease. Recent studies suggest that fewer patients with cardiac disease are getting routine checkups or attending rehab classes during the pandemic, putting them at even greater risk of serious health issues or death.

Getting started with a digital health program has never been easier. Download our free eBrief, “New Digital Health Programs to Future-Proof Your Hospital System,” for more information on how virtual tools can help you engage at-risk patients outside the care setting.

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