Hospitals are being urged to bring back face-to-face cardiac rehabilitation programs, with the number of heart attack survivors completing the sessions plummeting in the past six months.
The Heart Foundation has urged health services to prioritise the return of in-person sessions to ensure those at risk complete all sessions of the life-saving program.
Over the past five years, six in 10 heart attack sufferers have been referred to a cardiac rehab program.
While traditionally delivered in a face-to-face format, many services were suspended or replaced with telehealth models due to COVID-19.
Now a new Heart Foundation survey has found that only 14 per cent of participants doing the program via telehealth over the past six months completed all the sessions, compared to 73 per cent who attended in person.
The foundation's general manager of heart health, Bill Stavreski, said it was reassuring to see cardiac rehabilitation services resuming across Australia but stressed the importance of the face-to-face model.
"Many Australians have benefited from the expansion of telehealth funding and new models of care during the COVID-19 pandemic," he said.
"It's important that these continue given the possibility of future lockdowns, like the one we are currently seeing in WA.
"However, as restrictions have eased, face-to-face cardiac rehabilitation programs can be resumed, and telehealth should become just one of several options that can be tailored for the specific patient."
He said some patients require additional supervision and support during their exercise sessions and find participating in person in a group environment is more preferable than via telehealth.
"And we know some heart patients really value the peer-support aspect of face-to-face cardiac rehabilitation, and clinicians are able to get a feel for how a patient is feeling, looking after themselves and recovering.
"Cardiac rehabilitation looks different for everyone.
"For some, telehealth programs will be desirable, but we often hear from patients that getting out of the house to exercise and learn about heart health with people in a similar predicament is life changing."
Mr Stavreski called for more alternate models of care "that are flexible and patient-centric".
"It is important that all patients who have had a heart attack, heart surgery, or other heart or blood vessel disease are routinely referred to an appropriate cardiac rehabilitation program by a health professional," he said.
"Cardiac rehabilitation is the best way to prevent another heart attack, stay out of hospital and get back to a good quality of life."
- heartfoundation.org.au or phone 131 112.