The Impact of the SARS-CoV-2 Virus (COVID-19) Pandemic and the Rapid Adoption of Telehealth for Cardiac Rehabilitation and Secondary Prevention Programs in Rural and Remote Australia: A Multi-Method Study

Heart Lung Circ. 2022 Nov;31(11):1504-1512. doi: 10.1016/j.hlc.2022.07.006. Epub 2022 Aug 17.


Introduction: Centre-based cardiac rehabilitation (CR) programs were disrupted and urged to adopt telehealth modes of delivery during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Previously established telehealth services may have faced increased demand. This study aimed to investigate a) the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on CR attendance/completion, b) clinical outcomes of patients with cardiovascular (CV) diseases referred to CR and, c) how regional and rural centre-based services converted to a telehealth delivery during this time.

Methods: A cohort of patients living in regional and rural Australia, referred to an established telehealth-based or centre-based CR services during COVID-19 first wave, were prospectively followed-up, for ≥90 days (February to June 2020). Cardiac rehabilitation attendance/completion and a composite of CV re-admissions and deaths were compared to a historical control group referred in the same period in 2019. The impact of mode of delivery (established telehealth service versus centre-based CR) was analysed through a competitive risk model. The adaption of centre-based CR services to telehealth was assessed via a cross-sectional survey.

Results: 1,954 patients (1,032 referred during COVID-19 and 922 pre-COVID-19) were followed-up for 161 (interquartile range 123-202) days. Mean age was 68 (standard deviation 13) years and 68% were male. Referrals to the established telehealth program did not differ during (24%) and pre-COVID-19 (23%). Although all 10 centre-based services surveyed adopted telehealth, attendance (46.6% vs 59.9%; p<0.001) and completion (42.4% vs 75.4%; p<0.001) was significantly lower during COVID-19. Referral during vs pre-COVID-19 (sub hazard ratio [SHR] 0.77; 95% CI 0.68-0.87), and to a centre-based program compared to the established telehealth service (SHR 0.66; 95% CI 0.58-0.76) decreased the likelihood of CR uptake.

Discussion: An established telehealth service and rapid adoption of telehealth by centre-based programs enabled access to CR in regional and rural Australia during COVID-19. However, further development of the newly implemented telehealth models is needed to promote CR attendance and completion.

Keywords: COVID-19; Cardiac rehabilitation; Rural health; Telehealth.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • COVID-19* / prevention & control
  • Cardiac Rehabilitation* / methods
  • Cardiovascular Diseases*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pandemics / prevention & control
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Secondary Prevention
  • Telemedicine*