Research to explore impact of COVID-19 on cardiac rehabilitation

The impact of the global pandemic on cardiac rehabilitation in South Australia is being assessed by researchers from Flinders University’s Caring Futures Institute.

Experts say they believe there has been a significant drop in hospital admissions for cardiovascular reasons during the pandemic but it’s unlikely to be caused by a reduction in actual incidences of cardiovascular disease.

Instead, the fear of catching COVID-19 could be the culprit, contributing to less people being admitted to hospital or presenting to emergency departments.

According to the World Health Organisation, 31% of the countries who took part in a health services impact survey had disruption of cardiac services during the pandemic.

Dr Alline Beleigoli says the research study aims to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on cardiac rehabilitation in South Australia specifically.

“This evaluation will be both in terms of clinical outcomes, such as death and hospital admissions, and health services usage indicators, such as number of referrals to a cardiac rehabilitation service and the time to commencement of a cardiac rehabilitation,” she says.

“We will also try to understand how this situation affected clinicians’ decision-making process regarding aspects of cardiac rehabilitation, such as mode of delivery (face-to-face or telemedicine).

Cardiovascular disease, which includes heart, stroke and blood vessel diseases, is the world’s largest health problem, accounting for one in four deaths and claiming a life every 13 minutes.

Dr Beleigoli says data is needed to prevent disruptions to the care of patients with cardiovascular disease in Australia in potential future COVID-19 outbreaks.

The research project benefits from a long history of collaboration between Caring Futures Institute research lead Professor Robyn Clark and her team at the Integrated Cardiovascular Clinical Network (iCCnet) within Flinders University’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences, and SA Health.

Caring Futures Institute research lead Professor Robyn Clark.

iCCnet works to remove barriers to access safe and necessary cardiovascular care, including in rural and remote locations of SA.

One of its core outcomes has been the CATCH (Country Access to Cardiac Health) program, a telehealth intervention that allows cardiovascular patients to seek rehabilitation services remotely over the phone.

Research will compare the 2019 clinical outcomes and use of the CATCH program in 2019 with those of 2020 to understand if more cardiovascular patients used telehealth in the face of the pandemic.

Researchers will also survey clinicians across South Australia Local Health Networks to gain an understanding of how cardiac rehabilitation services have been affected.

“We anticipate that the use of the telehealth options has increased in comparison to face-to-face or group-based options for cardiac rehab,” Dr Beleigoli says.

“So it’s important to look at quality indicators such as the time between referral to the service and the actual commencement of the treatment, to investigate whether changes in the CATCH program are needed for preparedness for future outbreaks.”

The research project is funded by the Caring Futures Institute’s COVID-19 collaborative research grant.

The research team comprises Professor Robyn Clark, Dr Alline Beleigoli, Rosy Tirimacco, (iCCnet SA), Dr Susie Cartledge (Flinders), Kay Govin (Flinders), and Dr Philip Tideman (iCCnet SA).

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