Heart disease is the number one killer in the US and throughout the world. Cardiac rehabilitation has been proven as an effective antidote to the scourge, but it’s simply not available to everyone who needs it, or too difficult to complete for many participants. Researchers have been working on ways to make cardiac rehabilitation more available and easier to use, and there may be a solution to some of the problems in the form of virtual cardiac rehabilitation.

Heart disease is a big problem

There are more than 700,000 heart attacks every year nationally, and most of them are first time incidents. If the victims can get their heart disease under control, they’re more likely not to have a second one.

Cardiac rehabilitation works, reducing the amount of second heart attacks and hospitalizations. It saves more lives than any type of heart medication. However, in the traditional cardiac rehabilitation model, there is a significant time and effort expenditure to be a fully participating member, which is why so many people either don’t join or drop out. Even home-based programs require patients to track their progress in a way that many people don’t want to bother. Despite the evidence and the real change it can make in a person’s life, specifically people who at a real risk of fatal heart failure, only about 50% of people who join a program actually complete it.

The new virtual cardiac rehabilitation

The idea of virtual cardiac rehabilitation is an exciting breakthrough for many patients suffering from heart disease. Kaiser Permanente, the West Coast Healthcare giant, is pioneering virtual cardiac rehabilitation in collaboration with Samsung. The new technology they offer makes it much easier for patients to keep to their program, and it aggressively charts patient progress.

The way it works is that patients enroll in the program and begin with a meeting with a care team, who creates a customized plan for rehab. Each patient gets a Samsung smartwatch that uploads information through an app to a smartphone. All of this information goes straight to the care team and everything is recorded in the patient’s file. The smartwatch also sends the patient exercise reminders and monitors his heart rate as he exercises. All of the data is automatically in the hands of the doctors, who are involved with the patient in real time.

The patient then has a virtual meeting with a case manager once a week to discuss progress, and he can also contact someone on the team whenever he has a question.

So far, 2,362 people have joined the program and 1,880 have graduated, with impressive results. 87% of participants have finished the program, as opposed to the national average of 50%, and 67% are exercising every day – and that’s more than a patient’s reporting, because the exercise is being recorded. Some in person workshops are offered, and 37% of members chose to attend one. Most notable, hospital admissions from members are under 2%, in contrast to 10-15% of members in standards cardiac rehabilitation.

These are exciting statistics for people with heart disease, and with these kinds of numbers, newer advances in cardiac Rehabilitation, such as virtual programs, will be making their way to a wider net of facilities, such as Sinai Post Acute Care.