Cardiovascular disease (CVD), a leading cause of morbidity and mortality, has similar incidence in metropolitan and rural areas but poorer cardiovascular outcomes for residents living in rural and remote Australia. Cardiac Rehabilitation (CR) is an evidence-based intervention that helps reduce subsequent cardiovascular events and rehospitalisation. Unfortunately CR attendance rates are as low as 10–30% with rural/remote populations under-represented. This in-depth assessment investigated the provision of CR and secondary prevention services in Western Australia (WA) with a focus on rural and remote populations.
CR and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services were identified through the Directory of Western Australian Cardiac Rehabilitation and Secondary Prevention Services 2012. Structured interviews with CR coordinators included questions specific to program delivery, content, referral and attendance.
Of the 38 CR services identified, 23 (61%) were located in rural (n = 11, 29%) and remote (n = 12, 32%) regions. Interviews with coordinators from 34 CR services (10 rural, 12 remote, 12 metropolitan) found 77% of rural/remote services were hospital-based, with no service providing a comprehensive home-based or alternative method of program delivery. The majority of rural (60%) and remote (80%) services provided CR through chronic condition exercise programs compared with 17% of metropolitan services; only 27% of rural/remote programs provided education classes. Rural/remote coordinators were overwhelmingly physiotherapists, and only 50% of rural and 33% of remote programs had face-to-face access to multidisciplinary support. Patient referral and attendance rates differed greatly across WA and referrals to rural/remote services generally numbered less than 5 per month. Program evaluation was reported by 33% of rural/remote coordinators.
Geography, population density and service availability limits patient access to CR services in rural/remote WA. Current inadequacies in delivering comprehensive centre-based CR in rural/remote settings impedes management of cardiovascular risk and opportunities for event reduction. Health pathways that ensure referral and continuity of care are needed, with emerging technology-based CR support to supplement centre-based CR services requiring assessment. Implementing systematic data collection across services to establish benchmarks and enable service monitoring and evaluation is needed.