When it comes to attending cardiac rehab sessions, the more, the better. Researchers analyzing data from thousands of Medicare beneficiaries who attended least one cardiac rehabilitation session weren’t surprised by that finding. But they are alarmed at the heart attack and death rates of those not completing the full 36-session course of rehab. Patients are usually referred to a cardiac rehabilitation facility after a heart attack, coronary bypass surgery, heart transplant or other cardiac interventions. Rehab is also used for the long-term management of angina, which is chest pain caused by clogged or narrowed arteries. “Unfortunately, use of cardiac rehab is very low,” said Bradley G. Hammill, MS, lead author of the study and senior biostatistician at the Center for Clinical and Genetic Economics at Duke Clinical Research Institute in Durham, NC. “Under 20 percent of those eligible ever go and women and minorities go less often than white men. We need to promote cardiac rehab for everyone. An important point about cardiac rehabilitation is that each visit involves interaction with a healthcare provider, and there is benefit to having contact with the medical system.” According to the report, published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, Medicare beneficiaries with heart disease who attended more cardiac rehabilitation sessions had fewer heart attacks and were less likely to die within four years than those who went to rehab less. Medicare reimburses 36 sessions, yet about half of these Medicare-enrolled patients attended 24 or fewer sessions—and the fewer the number of sessions, the greater the risk of heart attack and death. Added Hammill, “We need to encourage physicians to recommend cardiac rehabilitation to eligible patients, and we need to encourage those patients to attend and stay with it.
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