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Your Healthy Family: UCHealth's virtual at-home cardiac rehab program

Posted at 3:43 PM, Jun 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-29 17:50:52-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — In this Your Healthy Family, we learned UCHealth Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs just became the first hospital in the state to be recognized by the Million Hearts® Hospitals & Health Systems Recognition Program. [millionhearts.hhs.gov]

Million Hearts® [millionhearts.hhs.gov] is a national initiative co-led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).

The Million Hearts initiative works to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes within five years. It focuses on implementing a small set of evidence-based priorities and targets that can improve cardiovascular health.

UCHealth Memorial is getting this recognition for its hybrid cardiac rehab program, which got a jump start because of the pandemic. In the program, patients are able to participate in cardiac rehab virtually, from their home.

Zach Dust, MS, CPT, a clinical exercise physiologist with UCHealth, tells me the idea of leading patients through a rehab session remotely wasn’t born during the pandemic, though. “There was research into it when I was in grad school. They wanted to launch virtual programs then, but it wasn't a big thing.”

But when COVID and lockdowns hit, especially for high-risk patients, Zach says hybrid cardiac rehab became a necessity. “We realized we still need to get care to patients in a safe environment. But how do we do that when we have all these restrictions? People are still having heart events, they still have (health) things going on, so it's not like you can just stop care.”

Once a patient has several initial in-person therapy sessions following a heart event, they can be transitioned to the hybrid program and do their therapy in the comfort of their bedroom or living room, along with other patients who are also participating virtually. All that is needed is the internet and a smart device with a camera, like a smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Zach says training someone virtually is different than working with a patient in person. “I've been an online trainer in the past, so that helps, but for me it's more just knowing your patients. With this (hybrid cardiac rehab) I'm more like an accountability trainer.”

Even now that most COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, doing cardiac rehab at home can have many benefits for patients.

Rajean Blomquist suffered a massive heart attack in December 2021. How she survived is another story for another time, but she is now benefiting from the hybrid rehab program.

Rajean says, “I’ll be honest, one of the other things I really like about the hybrid program is that it's almost like I have my own personal trainer.”

Zach, who works with Rajean, says of the program, “It gives our patients a different view on things. It helps if they have any kind of transportation issues. With COVID, it helps create a safe environment that some patients definitely want. It also helps with adherence to at-home exercise programs.” Attendance is also better when patients can do the program from home.

In our next story we'll explore exactly what happens during a hybrid cardiac rehab therapy session and hear more from Rajean on the many benefits she is finding being in the program.

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