Cardiac rehabilitation is known to help people recover after a heart attack or heart surgery, but a new study shows only one-quarter of eligible Medicare patients actually use it.
Which patients are most likely to pass on rehab? Women, those aged 85 and older, blacks, Hispanics and those who live in the Southeast and Appalachia, researchers found.
It gets worse: Of those who do take part in cardiac rehabilitation programs, only about one-quarter complete the entire program.
"Cardiac rehabilitation has strong evidence demonstrating its lifesaving and life-enhancing benefits, and Medicare Part B provides coverage for the program," said researcher Matthew Ritchey, from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"However, participation in cardiac rehabilitation programs remains low among people covered by Medicare," he added.
For the study, the researchers collected data on more than 366,000 Medicare patients who were eligible for cardiac rehabilitation in 2016.
The investigators found that:
"The low participation and completion rates observed translate to upwards of 7 million missed opportunities in this study to potentially improve health outcomes if 70% of them covered by Medicare who had a heart attack or acute heart event or surgery participated in cardiac rehabilitation and completed 36 sessions," Ritchey said in an American Heart Association (AHA) news release.
But barriers exist that might explain why more patients don't take advantage of cardiac rehabilitation, the study authors noted.
For one, electronic referral processes for cardiac rehabilitation services are not standardized. Also, patients may not complete rehabilitation because of costs or the time needed to take part in the program that conflicts with returning to work or other personal commitments.
"Improving awareness of the value of cardiac rehabilitation, increasing referral of eligible patients, and reducing system and patient barriers to participation are all critical steps in improving the referral, enrollment and participation rates, which, in turn, can improve patient outcomes," Ritchey said.
The report was published online Jan. 14 in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, an AHA publication.
For more on cardiac rehabilitation, head to the American Heart Association.