Country cardiac rehab help launches in SA-NT

When specialist care, outpatient departments or even a doctor’s appointment means driving long distances, managing, and recovering from heart disease can be difficult.

To address the problem, Flinders University has led the development and upgraded launch this month of a comprehensive suite of the latest cardiac rehabilitation information and resources online to better treat patients of cardiovascular diseases in rural and remote areas of South Australia and the Northern Territory.

Flinders University Professor Robyn Clark, is also Clinical Chair and Director of Nursing and Midwifery Research at SAHLN / SA Health.

The Country Heart Attack Prevention program, or CHAP Project, is tailor-made for country people’s recovery and secondary prevention support and aims to increase the neglected number of Australians who do not get the best regular benefit from organised cardiac rehabilitation support. It all starts with a referral from your cardiologist, GP or a clinic nurse to log in.

Heart disease is a leading cause of death and illness around the world, with contemporary cardiac rehabilitation vital to ensure a return to better health and to prevent disease reoccurrence.  However, as many as 50% of heart patients do not get a referral to complete or continue with a recommended cardiac rehab program.

CHAP program leader, Matthew Flinders Professor Robyn Clark, says education about risk management and reduction, exercise, diet, medications, and other practical information is not available free for survivors of acute coronary syndrome, stable angina, coronary artery bypass surgery, heart failure and percutaneous coronary interventions.

“This program aims to offer flexible, interactive, web-based information for patients to keep up their rehabilitation,” says Professor Clark, Flinders University Professor of Acute Care and Cardiovascular Research.

With about 18 million deaths a year globally, it’s estimated that one Australian suffers a fatal cardiovascular event very 12 minutes or about one-quarter of all deaths. Australians living in rural and remote areas have up to 90%  higher rates of cardiovascular disease (CVD) related hospitalisation and 60% higher rates of CVD death than those in metropolitan areas (ABS 2020, AIHW 2018).

Project researcher, Flinders University PhD candidate Katie Nesbitt, says the CHAP Project team worked extensively with country patients to develop the web-based program with the right kind of evidence-based resources to suit men and women of all ages.

She says the progressive rollout has been successful, with the latest version going online earlier this month (July 2023) after working with the Integrated Clinical Cardiovascular Network via their Country Access to Cardiac Health program which provides telephone or face-to-face programs for eligible patients.

“Importantly, this program will now have a self-enrolment function from hospital discharge, providing patients with a remote stand-alone or bridging program until they start a face-to-face or telephone service,” says Ms Nesbitt, also from Flinders University’s Caring Futures Institute in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

“This means patients can access their cardiac rehabilitation education early and autonomously and country patients can do web or telephone or combination, with those eligible for face-to-face needing to live within 50km of that service.”

CVDs are a group of disorders of the heart and blood vessels and include coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, rheumatic heart disease and other conditions such as heart failure and arrhythmias (WHO 2021).

Partners in the project include the Department for Health and Wellbeing, SA Health, Country Health SA, Country SA Primary Health Network, the Heart Foundation, AstraZeneca, Novartis, the Flinders Foundation, Cardiac Society of Australia and New Zealand, the Royal Australian College of General Practice (RACGP),  Australian Cardiac Rehabilitation Association, Exercise Scientists Society of Australia and Flinders University.

Acknowledgement: The CHAP Project was funded by a $3.3 million National Health and Medical Research Partnership grant (1169893) 2019-23.

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