Doctors at Atrium Health are testing a new cardiac rehabilitation program using a tool that most patients have in hand every day — mobile phones.
Cardiac Rehab “To Go” extends healthcare outside the doctor’s office, connecting patients through the MyCarolinas app and their mobile devices to a multi-disciplinary team composed of doctors, exercise physiologists, a registered nurse and a registered dietitian.
The innovative program aims to meet patients where they are, said Dr. Irvin Naylor, a cardiologist at Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute. “The pilot program is a way to leverage mobile devices that a lot of patients already have.”
Atrium Health launched the program in January 2017 after a successful trial of remote virtual care was piloted in its Heart Success program.
Advantages of cardiac rehab
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., striking 1.5 million Americans every year. Yet, says Dr. Naylor, only 20 percent to 30 percent of eligible patients participate in cardiac rehabilitation, which has proven beneficial to longevity and quality of life. Busy schedules, transportation issues and even a lack of referrals hinder heart patients from taking advantage of cardiac rehab.
African Americans suffer higher rates of heart attacks and strokes than white Americans — 49% more for black women, 44% more for black men.
Cardiac rehab is a structured program of exercise, dietary education, consultations with physiologists and nurses to help patients transition from the hospital experience to a program of exercise and diet.
In the hospital, there are lots of moving parts, a lot of information and it takes a minute for it to settle in, Dr. Naylor says. Rehab provides patients with an opportunity to ask questions they may have missed during their hospital stay as well as find a community of people who have suffered similar trauma. And it provides continued reinforcement for the patient’s rehab goals.
“I have patients who have gone through a similar experience — heart attacks or valvular heart disease. They’ve all had some sort of intervention in the hospital. Then they get a chance to meet in a place where there are other individuals who’ve suffered similar trauma along with healthcare professionals in their subspecialty area,” he said. “I think that cardiac rehab is an excellent resource because patients are able to recover together and have the support of a robust care team.”
How does Cardiac Rehabilitation “To Go” work?
Using the MyCarolinas app from a mobile device, patients in the later stages of rehabilitation can remotely access cardiac rehab sessions where their progress can be monitored.
Atrium Health provides Bluetooth equipment (a scale and a blood pressure monitor) that links to the app virtually.
Patients log their exercise activity in the MyCarolinas app. If they have a Fitbit or other monitoring device, they can link that device to the MyCarolinas app as well.
Patients can also connect with healthcare professionals to provide a similar experience as in-person cardiac rehab.
“I’m encouraged with the potential of technology,” says Dr. Naylor. “My expectation is that this will allow us to extend cardiac rehab to the maybe 60 percent or 70 percent of the folks who would benefit from it but who still don’t get through our doors yet.”
How to participate
Cardiac Rehab “To Go” is available to patients based on a doctor’s recommendation. Only certain patients may be eligible for the “To Go” program. To participate in the program, talk to your physician.
The program is being tested at three facilities. To talk to someone at one of Atrium Health’s cardiac rehabilitation locations, contact:
• Carolinas HealthCare System Pineville: (704) 667-6010
• Carolinas HealthCare System Union: (980) 993-7220
• Carolinas HealthCare System Southpark: (704) 512-2401