Cardiac rehabilitation, or cardiac rehab, is a comprehensive secondary prevention program designed to improve cardiovascular health following a cardiac event or procedure. An optimal cardiac rehab experience consists of 36 one-hour sessions that include team-based supervised exercise training, education and skills development for heart-healthy living, and counseling on stress and other psychosocial factors (Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 2016). Participation in a cardiac rehab program can reduce the risk of death from any cause and from cardiac causes, as well as decrease hospital readmissions. Cardiac rehab participation also improves functional status, quality of life, mood, and medication adherence (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2016). Despite these benefits, participation in cardiac rehab remains low, ranging from 19% to 34% in a national analysis (Mayo Clinic Proceedings, 2016), with strong state-by-state geographic variations and differences by cardiac diagnosis. While cardiac rehab services are widely covered by public and private plans, co-pays per session represent a financial obstacle for most participants.
Strong evidence shows that cardiac rehab programs can benefit individuals who have:
- Had a heart attack.
- Stable angina.
- Received a stent or angioplasty.
- Heart failure with reduced ejection fraction.
- Undergone bypass, valve, or a heart, lung, or heart-lung transplant surgery.
Improving awareness of its value, increasing referral of eligible patients, and reducing system and patient barriers to participation are all critical steps in improving the referral, enrollment, and participation rates in cardiac rehab programs. Effective remedies have been identified but are not being widely and systematically implemented.
Tools and Resources
For Clinicians and Cardiac Rehab Teams
- Cardiac Rehabilitation: Change Package
This change package is a quality improvement tool to help teams from hospitals and cardiac rehabilitation programs put systems and strategies in place that target improved care for more eligible patients. It presents a listing of process improvements that cardiac rehabilitation champions can implement and includes change concepts, change ideas, and tools and resources.
- Million Hearts® Cardiac Rehab Infographic [PDF-485K]
This infographic shares key statistics about the existing infrastructure and service delivery needs to maximize uptake of cardiac rehab programs in the United States.
- Value-Based Care
This initiative from the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation (AACVPR) provides turnkey strategies to improve enrollment and adherence in cardiac rehab programs.
- Cardiac Rehabilitation Fact Sheet [PDF-399K]
This AACVPR fact sheet provides an overview of cardiac rehab and outlines the benefits to participating in a program. It can also be displayed and distributed in waiting rooms.
- Home Health Quality Improvement Cardiac Rehab Video Playlist
This collection of videos, from the American College of Cardiology, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and other organizations, covers important information about cardiac rehab, including program basics and what to expect from participating in a cardiac rehab program. Additionally, these videos include stories and experiences from patients who participated in cardiac rehab programs.
- American Heart Association: Cardiac Rehab
This collection of materials from the American Heart Association provides patients with details about what cardiac rehab offers, its benefits, eligibility guidance, common questions and answers, and what can be expected from the experience.
- Cardiac Rehabilitation Communications Toolkit
This communications toolkit will equip your organization with resources and messages to spread awareness about the value of cardiac rehabilitation and solutions for increasing participation.
References and Key Publications
2018 ACC/AHA Clinical Performance and Quality Measure for Cardiac Rehabilitation [PDF-2MB]
This article provides updated recommendations for the cardiac rehabilitation quality measures. New measures include: inpatient/outpatient referrals for exercise training for heart failure, assessment of enrollment, adherence, and cardiac rehabilitation communication. (Journal of the American College of Cardiology, April 2018)
Exercise-Based Cardiac Rehabilitation for Coronary Heart Disease: Cochrane Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
This systematic review found that among patients who have had myocardial infarction (MI), coronary artery bypass graft (CABG), or percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA) or who have angina pectoris or coronary artery disease, cardiac rehabilitation reduces the risk of cardiovascular mortality and hospitalizations, compared with no-exercise control. (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2016)
2013 ACCF/AHA Guideline for the Management of Heart Failure: A Report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines
For patients with stable chronic systolic heart failure, cardiac rehabilitation is a class IIa recommendation. Cardiac rehabilitation can be useful in clinically stable patients with heart failure to improve functional capacity, exercise duration, and health-related quality of life; and reduce mortality and hospitalizations. (Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 2013)
Use of Outpatient Cardiac Rehabilitation Utilization among Heart Attack Survivors—20 States and the District of Columbia, 2013 and Four States, 2015
Data from 20 U.S. states and the District of Columbia indicate that only 1 in 3 heart attack survivors reports receiving cardiac rehab after suffering a heart attack. (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 2017)
AACVPR/AACF/AHA 2010 Update: Performance Measures on Cardiac Rehabilitation for Referral to Cardiac Rehabilitation/Secondary Prevention Services
This document updates two measures that articulate the opportunities to improve referrals to cardiac rehabilitation: Cardiac Rehabilitation Patient Referral from an Inpatient Setting and Cardiac Rehabilitation Patient Referral from an Outpatient Setting. These revisions help to clarify several aspects of the measures and to facilitate their implementation, which will provide clinicians and institutions with an opportunity to measure the quality of care and identify opportunities for improvement. (Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 2010)