New research showing that only a small number of people recovering from a heart attack ever attend a cardiac rehabilitation program has health professionals pondering strategies to boost attendance.
According to a study led by Dr. Jacob Doll of the Duke Clinical Research Institute and recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine, patient participation in cardiac rehab programs is decidedly low given how vital such programs are to successful heart attack recovery. Based on the records of more than 58,000 heart attack patients hospitalized between 2007 and 2010, the study found that less than two-thirds of patients, or just over 62%, were even referred to a cardiac rehab program following their discharge from the hospital. Of that number, only 33% ended up actually attending a program.
The study has raised speculation about the possible reasons behind such a low attendance rate. Some health professionals feel that the benefits of cardiac rehab may not be properly explained by the doctor or clearly understood by the patient while in the hospital, leading to the mistaken assumption that cardiac rehabilitation programs are an optional amenity rather than a key part of the recovery process. Another explanation is that patients may find cardiac rehab programs to be too disruptive or overwhelming. The programs typically involve three sessions per week over a 12-week period, which many people may find to be too difficult to balance with the additional demands of work and family. Expense and transportation could also be obstacles.
A potential alternative mentioned in the study is the use of home-based cardiac rehab programs. However, Dr. Doll acknowledged that such programs are not necessarily the most feasible solution. They are not always widely available (and even when they are, doctors do not always know they exist), and they may also involve a higher cost to the patient. Therefore, for the time being, the study suggests focusing on properly and clearly explaining the benefits of rehab programs to cardiac patients and referring them to programs as close to home as possible.