Learn how tech can make rehab simpler with cardiac rehab expert Guest Speaker Dr. Pat Dunn on Thursday, September 16th.
Dr. Patrick Dunn is the Program Director for Connected Heart Health and the AHA Inside initiative for the American Heart Association’s new Center of Excellence for Health Technology and Innovation. When Dr. Dunn left graduate school he initially wanted to work with athletes in exercise physiology. His internship in medicine was in a cardiac rehabilitation center. He developed a passion for cardiovascular conditioning and rehabilitation. Now 35 years later he’s an experienced health educator. He teaches about cardiac rehabilitation, preventive cardiology, and wellness with expertise in digital health literacy and digital coaching methods.
“The patients are my athletes. Instead of winning a race or a medal, it’s helping them prolong and improve the quality of their life.”
Dr. Dunn works with the classic group of cardiac rehabilitation patients after heart attacks, open-heart surgeries, stints, angioplasties, chest pains, and heart failures. However, he really believes that anyone with a heart should be eligible for rehab.
“Key aspects of rehabilitation like managing your cholesterol and blood glucose apply to everyone. It’s essential to a healthy heart, even if you haven’t had a heart issue, to maintain your weight, limit your stress, and manage depression or anxiety.”
There are elements of rehab that can benefit almost everyone.
“Heart health spans all ages. The older I get the younger the patients seem to be getting. You have people in their 30-40 who are having heart attacks or stents. Some go right back into the workforce, which may not be the best thing for their hearts.”
One of the challenges with traditional cardiac rehab is that patients needed to find a center to do rehab in.
“Only 1 in about 4 of the patients that are eligible ever go to rehab - even though patients that go to rehab are significantly better. They have fewer heart attacks in the future, live longer, feel better, and are less likely to be re-hospitalized.”
Many people avoid rehab because they don’t have time or access to a program near them. Some people can’t easily attend appointments due to time constraints, limited mobility, or extensive commutes to the nearest rehabilitation center.
Digital solutions can help bring heart health and rehab to the comfort of your home. These solutions are as safe and effective as center-based cardiac rehabilitation. Doctors and nurses provide guidance through telemedicine solutions. Plus they use digital tools to help facilitate cardiac rehabilitation.
Wearable technology, from medical-grade equipment to consumer options like Fitbits and Apple watches, have sensors that can help monitor a variety of aspects. Devices can measure heart rate, EKG, body temperature, oxygen levels, and more. This means that doctors can have access to your records, if you set your device to share these statistics with them. This way they can monitor your progress not just when you are in a health center but throughout your rehabilitation. Your device information gets uploaded into a cloud that the people and doctors you select can access and monitor.
“The hope is that we can get more people involved in their cardiac rehabilitation. Digital tools can do some things better than the center. It can allow us to monitor health over more time and in different conditions. We can provide better educational resources that can be accessed on one’s home computer or smartphone. It’s not easy to have patients read an article as they are exercising in the center.”
Dr. Dunn doesn’t believe that machines are better but rather that they can work together with healthcare professionals to help improve a patient's health. Plus computers have better memories than humans. They can monitor things that help doctors to notice if patients are depressed, have chest pains, or other risk facts.
“We see technology playing a role in helping to monitor, educate, and notify patients and medical professionals of heart risk symptoms. We don’t see technology replacing professionals. But, we hope it helps more people get involved in programs and helps leverage professionals’ time.”
Patients can design and customize which information is tracked on their devices. They can also set up sharing settings. This helps all health information to be available to both specialists and local doctors.
Health technology is still in a grey area of who is paying for it. Depending on your situation it can be covered by a health plan, employer, or not at all - especially for many consumer-grade products. However, coverages are being debated and more plans are adding these tools as preventative measures. These tools help with health equity. They give people access to education, therapies, and health resources that may not be available or accessible to them otherwise.
Digital therapeutics aren’t one size fits all. Health tech goes through a process similar to the FDA approval process to assure it is complementary and effective in monitoring medical conditions.
“I see health tech as a big game-changer. When I worked in rehab I only knew what was going on when patients were in the center. I knew nothing as soon as they took the monitor off. Health technology complements our care. It allows ongoing monitoring between sessions and can provide alerts to the person wearing the device that tells them what to do.”
While most devices won’t call 911 for you, they can offer insight on what to do if your blood pressure is higher than normal or other symptoms. These tips help you know if it is safe to wait and take another test or important to call your doctor or go to a local hospital immediately.
“Health tech helps educate you on what to do in different situations. Many people frankly die because they wait too long to get help.”
The American Heart Association works directly with cardiovascular specialists through digital platforms that provide these services. Each program is customized to meet local needs.
“There is no one size fits all health tech program available now for cardiovascular specialists. We are a trusted source of help for healthcare professionals and patients to understand a plan that best meets their needs.”
COVID-19 unmasked the need to use digital tools to improve access to cardiac services. Even though many centers shut down with social distancing that didn’t stop patients from needing care in their homes. Furthermore, it highlighted the important role that holistic health care including mental health plays in cardiovascular recovery.
“Most rehab programs start with physical rehab. They focus on exercise, nutrition, and medication. The reality is everyone who has heart disease is going to have some level of depression or anxiety. If you didn’t that would be concerning. It’s essential to address mental health as it can significantly affect a patient’s recovery compliance including if they are taking medications, maintaining their diet, and keeping up with appropriate activity.”
When mental health concerns after a cardiovascular episode aren’t addressed, it can lead to additional problems. Digital tools can be good for knowing to ask mental health questions. Health tech can help monitor a person’s stress levels, emotional state, and can even help to find the right tunes for people to relax or fall asleep. When doctors and patients work together on their cardiovascular health and incorporate health tech then recovery can be more effective, holistic, and an individual's needs.
Join Guest Speaker Dr. Pat Dunn as he talks about Tips for Heart Health from Cardiac Rehab. This live and interactive session will address the benefits and risks of cardiac rehabilitation, the safety, and effectiveness of home-based cardiac rehabilitation, and discuss types of health technologies that are effective in cardiac rehab.
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