Cardiac rehabilitation programs needed

Greater uptake of life-saving cardiac rehabilitation programs for heart attack survivors could reduce costs to the national health system by $35.5 million and stop 2,100 heart attacks across the country per year, according to new Heart Foundation research.

The analysis is being released in the lead up to Heart Week (1-7 May 2016), where the charity is promoting the benefits of cardiac rehabilitation programs for heart attack survivors.

Currently less than one in three heart attack survivors attend cardiac rehabilitation programs in Australia.

The Heart Foundation’s cost benefit analysis is based on increasing the participation rates from the current 30% to 65%, which is in line with the gold standard set out in international best practice guidelines.

This analysis shows that if uptake was increased to 65% the benefits nationally each year could be:

  • $35.5 million in savings in healthcare costs;
  • $58 million in social and economic benefits; and
  • reduction in 2,100 hospital admissions for heart attacks.


Heart Foundation’s Chief Medical Advisor, Professor Garry Jennings says the analysis shows investing in cardiac rehabilitation makes financial sense for governments and will reduce disability and save lives.

“Of the 55,000 heart attacks that will occur this year, each will cost around $30,000 in healthcare costs. That’s more than $1 billion every year,” Prof Jennings says.

“In stark contrast, a cardiac rehabilitation program costs the health system an average $885 per person to attend.”

Studies show that heart attack survivors who have participated in a cardiac rehabilitation program have a greater chance of avoiding a second event. They are 40% less likely to be readmitted to hospital and 25% less likely to die from another heart attack.

“While the benefits are clear, many people aren’t referred to or don’t attend of cardiac rehabilitation, leaving them at real risk of having another heart attack,” he says.

“A third of people being admitted to hospital for a heart attack have been there before – it isn’t their first heart attack but their second or third, putting major drain on our health services.

“It is startling that people can survive a heart attack and then walk away from the hospital without a program of care to reduce their risk of another attack.”

430,000 Australians are living having survived a heart attack, and the staggering majority of them (around 300,000) have not completed any form of the life-saving cardiac rehabilitation programs on offer.

Prof Jennings says national action is needed to fully combat the issue.

“The Heart Foundation is calling for a national, annual audit of cardiac rehabilitation, at an investment of $1 million a year, to be funded by the Australian Government to drive to highlight and overcome barriers to life-saving cardiac rehabilitation programs for those who suffer heart attacks,” he said.

“An audit would involve pulling together an expert workgroup to help measure attendance rates across the country, identify the treatment gap areas, allowing cardiac rehabilitation service providers to make improvements and measure their outcomes against latest evidence.”

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