February 6, 2020

Trailblazing technology powers healing for cardiac patients

Oregon’s only virtual cardiac rehabilitation program is giving patients convenience and control as they heal and recover, using a remote fitness tracker.

Thanks to the care he received; Kaiser Permanente member Mike White is back to his pace of walking half-marathons.

Kaiser Permanente member Sherie Cross-Linstead couldn’t help but reflect on her serious medical issues from the past 12 months as she watched her 1-year-old daughter gleefully smush birthday cake with her tiny fingers.

Another Kaiser Permanente member, Mike White, looked forward to fast-walking his fifth half-marathon — even though it was a bit later than planned.

Both had their lives turned upside down when they found out they needed urgent medical attention for a heart condition.

Cross-Linstead, 37 years old, was treated for heart failure just 3 days after her baby was born. White, 71, postponed the 13.1-mile race he had been training for and instead had surgery to bypass a blockage in his coronary artery.

After discharge from Kaiser Permanente Sunnyside Medical Center, both members continued their recovery, thanks to a trailblazing new service from Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Heart and Vascular Care, the Northwest’s top-rated heart program, as rated by the Society of Thoracic Surgeons.

Virtual cardiac rehabilitation, or VCR — the first and only of its kind in Oregon — is a convenient alternative to traditional, center-based cardiac rehabilitation.

Virtual healing through fitness tracking

Eligible members wear a fitness tracker (similar to a wristwatch) that records their steps and heart rate. They upload their data to a secure app on their smartphone and share the results with their VCR team. Regular phone and follow-up visits keep members on target for achieving their wellness goals.

Kaiser Permanente began offering VCR as an option in June 2019. Early results from the program show the completion rate is about 80% — 4 times greater than for the center-based program.

Sherie Cross-Linstead celebrates and shares a smile with her family.

Sherie Cross-Linstead celebrates and shares a smile with her family.

Providing choice: Virtual versus center-based rehab

Both forms of cardiac rehab address lifestyle behaviors that increase one’s risk of heart disease, such as lack of aerobic activity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, excess weight, and stress.

Center-based cardiac rehab consists of monitored physical exercise in a hospital or clinic 3 times a week for 12 weeks. That program’s virtual cousin gives patients the flexibility to exercise however and whenever they choose, with remote monitoring from specially trained cardiac nurses, and with zero copays. Participation is typically up to a year.

Nationwide, patients who participate in either mode of cardiac rehab live longer, have a better quality of life, and need fewer hospital readmissions, according to Siobhan Gray, MD, medical director for VCR.

Despite those benefits, patients often cite work commitments, transportation issues, and insurance copays as typical barriers to participating in traditional, center-based cardiac rehab.

“We wanted to find a way to help our members overcome those barriers, so they could benefit from all that cardiac rehab has to offer,” said Dr. Gray.

Care, support, convenience and control

Cross-Linstead said the VCR team “made me accountable without being pushy. They were great at suggesting activities and food options. They were caring, creative, and always supportive. As a busy, working mother of a newborn, I appreciated their help in finding ways to insert exercise into my day.”

White, an avid walker, attended a center-based program following a heart attack several years ago. He said it was “helpful to talk to other patients who were going through a similar situation,” but now that he knows what to expect, he prefers the virtual version because it gives him more convenience and control.

He credits VCR and the entire cardiology team for helping him complete the 13.1-mile race he had postponed 16 weeks earlier. “Finishing the half-marathon is a symbolic beginning of many more opportunities to thrive, thanks to Kaiser Permanente.”

Learn more about expert, quality cardiac care at Kaiser Permanente.