Veterans respond well to home-based cardiac rehab app, VA study shows

By Heather Mack
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While it’s not uncommon for patients at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center to have had a heart attack or cardiac procedure, few participate in rehabilitation programs after. But give them a smartphone-based rehab program, and they seem to take to it, suggests a small study of Veterans.

Using the home-based virtual rehab program from Moving Analytics over a period of 12 weeks, 23 Veterans felt encouraged and engaged with their recovery, which led to better fitness outcomes. With high retention rates and improved functional and clinical health, apps could be an easy, inexpensive way to get more Vets to enroll in cardiac rehab programs.

“When we reviewed our internal data, we realized that only 10 percent of our eligible Veterans were successfully enrolling in a cardiac rehab program. This made us realize that we could do a lot more to help the remaining 90 percent receive the same benefits that cardiac rehab provides,” Dr. Arash Harzand, research fellow at the Atlanta VA and co-investigator said when the pilot first launched.

To start the program, Veterans and a healthcare professional provided the data required for the app to make a clinical evaluation, from which a tailored home rehab program was created. Veterans would check in on the app daily to log exercises and metrics like blood pressure and weight, and would also connect with a cardiac nurse for phone-based coaching. Nurses reviewed progress remotely via the Moving Analytics integrated cloud-based dashboard.

The Veterans were into it, and the VA Center for Innovation-funded study had an 80 percent retention rate 90 days later. They also saw a 20 percent improvement in functional capacity and a reduced systolic blood pressure of 10 mmHg from baseline. Considering the older age range and historically low turnout for other cardiac rehab programs, the investigators were impressed at how well the Veterans responded to the app.  

“What surprised us was how well Veterans embraced the technology,” Harzand said in a statement. “Our work showed us that it’s feasible to utilize smartphones and digital tools to engage and coach this population effectively.”

Likewise, care managers also reported high satisfaction with the app, and the Atlanta VA team plans to expand the Moving Analytics platform to more patients across multiple sites.

“Delivering virtual cardiac rehabilitation via smartphones is a great example of a powerful tool that can help improve the experience of Veterans receiving care from the VA to help improve both their health and quality of life” Andrea Ippolito, Innovators Network Lead at the VA Center for Innovation said in a statement.

In addition to the VA, San Francisco-based Moving Analytics works with several large health systems including the Mayo Clinic, NYU Langone Medical Center and the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.