How virtual cardiac rehab can improve patient outcomes and loyalty while mitigating staffing shortages

Cardiac rehabilitation improves long-term health outcomes for cardiac patients. However, the number of brick-and-mortar cardiac rehab centers is limited and can only serve about half of the patients who need cardiac rehab. Meanwhile, the number of cardiac patients is steadily rising.

In a September Becker's Hospital Review webinar sponsored by Recora Health, three experts on cardiac health rehabilitation discussed current challenges and explained how virtual cardiac rehab can help address these challenges and serve patients who need this care. The presenters were from Recora and Tampa General Hospital:

  • Joel Fernandez, MD, director, cardiac rehabilitation, HF chronic disease management, Heart and Vascular Institute, Tampa General Hospital/University of South Florida
  • Guilherme Oliveira, MD, vice president and chief, Heart and Vascular Institute and chief, Division of CV Sciences, Tampa General Hospital/University of South Florida
  • Ed Wu, MD, founder and chief medical officer, Recora Health

Four key takeaways were:

  1. Cardiac rehab programs improve outcomes, but not enough patients receive this important service. "Cardiac rehab is a life-saving program; it's a class one recommendation after a heart attack, cardiac event surgery or heart failure," Dr. Wu said. "Studies show that cardiac rehab adds an average of five years to life expectancy and decreases all-cause hospitalizations as much as 40 percent." Yet 50 percent of heart patients are discharged either without a cardiologist or without a recovery care plan.

"Unfortunately, there also aren't enough access points for patients today," Dr. Wu said. "In fact, if every single patient who's eligible for cardiac rehab participated, only about 45 percent of them would have a chance at being placed in a program."

  1. Hospitals and private practices face cost, awareness and retention challenges in running brick-and-mortar cardiac rehab centers. Traditional centers that require real estate, staff and equipment can be expensive to operate. Even if those challenges are met, patients struggle with access, distance and language barrier issues that affect continued engagement.
  2. Virtual cardiac rehab care improves patient outreach, access and engagement. "These programs end up being financially positive," Dr. Fernandez said. "They also increase patient loyalty because they're taken care of in a high-touch operation, and you have a captive audience for other services that you provide. They help break down equity barriers in the population because everybody's treated with the same approach. It's a win-win situation in several dimensions for your health system."
  3. Tampa General Hospital (TGH) adopted Recora's virtual cardiac rehab program. Benefits include retaining more patients and providing greater access to quality care. "We live in a highly competitive environment in southwest Florida," Dr. Oliveira said. "Several large, non-academic competitors have more capital and more cardiac rehab facilities in the area. So, we were doing all these procedures and surgeries but then losing these patients to our competitors due to lack of access."

TGH decided against building additional physical cardiac rehab centers due to the high capital costs along with labor shortages in the area. "We started thinking outside the box and looking at alternative options," he said. "Creating a virtual cardiac rehab center allows us to keep patients in our network while giving them greater access to care."

Recora's Cardiac Recovery Program is composed of a multidisciplinary team assigned to each patient, a recovery kit that includes a tablet and exercise equipment and a program that includes all the core tenets of cardiac rehab in an immersive environment. The program boasts an 87 percent completion rate compared with a national average of 26 percent, as well as only a 15 percent hospital readmission rate at six months compared with a national average of 43 percent.

By utilizing a virtual cardiac recovery option like Recora, hospitals and practices can encourage increased participation and completion of cardiac rehabilitation programs. This not only leads to better patient outcomes, but it also helps health systems build long-term, committed relationships with their patients.

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