Study reveals significant drop in heart patients using cardiac rehab services during COVID

EXETER, United Kingdom — COVID-19 is directly responsible for a litany of awful health issues and symptoms. Unfortunately, COVID’s medial repercussions stretch far beyond just infected patients. The pandemic has made it that much more difficult for people to gain access to the medical care they need. Now, a new study reports the number of people engaging with life-enhancing cardiac rehabilitation clinics has declined during the pandemic.

University of Exeter researchers say their work illustrates the importance of home-based and virtual medical treatment alternatives moving forward. Pre-COVID, roughly 100,000 people entered U.K. hospitals due to a heart attack annually. Another 200,000 Brits suffering from heart failure seek hospital care each year as well. In 2020, the report finds a 40-percent decline in the number of patients admitted for heart attacks.

In the event of a heart attack or heart failure, cardiac rehabilitation is very important in regaining quality of life. Pre-pandemic, researchers report about 10 percent (4,969) of eligible heart failure patients were enrolled in British rehab programs. That number dropped to just five percent (1,474) after COVID’s arrival. Study authors attribute this drop to two main culprits: many clinics having to shut their doors due to the pandemic and patients fearing virus exposure if they enter a medical facility.

Moreover, a recent audit of U.K. cardiac rehab programs during COVID, put together by the British Heart Foundation, concluded that such programs have seen a 30-40 percent drop in comparison to 2019.

Telehealth and home rehab programs are the hottest thing in medicine

It isn’t all bad news on the heart health front, however. Home-based rehabilitation options are thriving with an increase from 22 percent to 74 percent attendance between 2019 and 2020. Study authors say the impact of COVID on these rehab services doesn’t have to be entirely negative. A more robust remote rehab program over all provides patients with more options – pandemic or not.

“Cardiac rehabilitation can enhance quality of life and reduce unplanned hospital admissions, yet uptake has been low, and has plummeted throughout the pandemic, creating a backlog. We know that home-based cardiac rehabilitation can work well for patients, and COVID-19 has provided an opportunity to reimagine how we delivery rehabilitation. Offering patients a choice of rehabilitation in clinics or at home – or a combination of both could help improve the numbers who can participate in the future,” study co-author Dr. Hasnain Dalal says in a university release.

The findings appear in The BMJ.