Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Cardiac Rehabilitation Delivery around the World

Glob Heart. 2021 Jun 10;16(1):43. doi: 10.5334/gh.939.


Background: We investigated impacts of COVID-19 on cardiac rehabilitation (CR) delivery around the globe, including virtual delivery, as well as effects on providers and patients.

Methods: In this cross-sectional study, a piloted survey was administered to CR programs globally via REDCap from April to June 2020. The 50 members of the International Council of Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation (ICCPR) and personal contacts facilitated program identification.

Results: Overall, 1062 (18.3% program response rate) responses were received from 70/111 (63.1% country response rate) countries in the world with existent CR programs. Of these, 367 (49.1%) programs reported they had stopped CR delivery, and 203 (27.1%) stopped temporarily (mean = 8.3 ± 2.8 weeks). Alternative models were delivered in 322 (39.7%) programs, primarily through low-tech modes (n = 226,19.3%). Furthermore, 353 (30.2%) respondents were re-deployed, and 276 (37.3%) felt the need to work due to fear of losing their job, despite the perceived risk of contracting COVID-19 (mean = 30.0% ± 27.4/100). Also, 266 (22.5%) reported anxiety, 241(20.4%) were concerned about exposing their family, 113 (9.7%) reported increased workload to transition to remote delivery, and 105 (9.0%) were juggling caregiving responsibilities during business hours. Patients were often contacting staff regarding grocery shopping for heart-healthy foods (n = 333, 28.4%), how to use technology to interact with the program (n = 329, 27.9%), having to stop their exercise because they have no place to exercise (n = 303, 25.7%), and their risk of death from COVID-19 due to pre-existing cardiovascular disease (n = 249, 21.2%). Respondents perceived staff (n = 488, 41.3%) and patient (n = 453, 38.6%) personal protective equipment, as well as COVID-19 screening (n = 414, 35.2%), and testing (n = 411, 35.0%) as paramount to in-person service resumption.

Conclusion: Given the estimated number of CR programs globally, these results suggest approximately 4400 CR programs globally have ceased or temporarily stopped service delivery. Those that remain open are implementing new technologies to ensure their patients receive CR safely, despite the challenges.

Highlights: - COVID-19 has impacted cardiac rehabilitation (CR) delivery around the globe.- In this cross-sectional study, a survey was completed by 1062 (18.3%) CR programs from 70 (63.1%) countries.- The pandemic has resulted in at least temporary cessation of ~75% of CR programs, with others ceasing initiation of new patients, reducing components delivered, and/or changing of mode delivery with little opportunity for planning and training.- There is also significant psychosocial and economic impact on CR providers.- Alternative CR model (e.g., home-based, virtual) reimbursement advocacy is needed, to ensure safe, accessible secondary prevention delivery.

Keywords: COVID-19; cardiac rehabilitation; global health; health services; healthcare providers; survey.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • COVID-19*
  • Cardiac Rehabilitation / methods*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Delivery of Health Care / methods*
  • Duration of Therapy
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Reimbursement Mechanisms
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Telerehabilitation / methods