Cardiac rehab saves lives and money – so why is it not happening?

People who have had one heart attack are 25 per cent less likely to die from a second heart attack, and are 40 per cent less likely to be readmitted to hospital, if they complete a cardiac rehabilitation program – but less than a third of eligible Australians are attending.

Calling for urgent action to address the low participation rates in cardiac rehabilitation, Heart Foundation Group CEO, Adjunct Professor John Kelly, will today deliver the opening address at the Annual Scientific Meeting in Sydney of the Australian Cardiovascular Health and Rehabilitation Association (ACRA).

“The evidence and the benefits are clear – cardiac rehabilitation saves lives. It should be the first critical step in a person’s recovery from a heart event, but participation rates are disturbingly low,” Professor Kelly said.

“The biggest contributor to people not attending cardiac rehab is a lack of referral to a program. For those who are referred, waiting lists are often long. This leaves them at a real risk of having another heart attack, and we know that nearly a third of all heart attacks are repeat events.”

Cardiac rehabilitation helps people get back on their feet and return to living an active and satisfying life after a heart attack, heart event or heart surgery – both physically and emotionally.

But Professor Kelly said Australia’s approach to cardiac rehab is inconsistent despite the considerable health and cost benefits in funding the life-saving programs.

“We don’t know specifically how many people are being referred to these services or how many people are completing the programs.

“It’s shocking that this data is not available because it means we’re unable to invest in strategies to boost the referrals, access, quality and outcomes of cardiac rehab in Australia.

“What we do know is that of the 57,000 heart attacks that will occur this year, each will cost around $30,000 in healthcare. That’s more than $1 billion every year. In stark contrast, a cardiac rehab program costs the health system an average $885 per person to attend.”

Cardiac rehabilitation programs usually run for six to12 weeks. They include exercise, health education, counselling, and support to change lifestyle and manage medications.

The Heart Foundation recommends that patients who have had a heart attack, heart surgery, or other heart or blood vessel disease are routinely referred to an appropriate cardiac rehabilitation program.

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