Cardiac rehabilitation (CR) is essential for secondary prevention, yet only 10%-30% of eligible patients attend as geographical proximity is a major barrier. We evaluated a ‘virtual’ CR program (vCRP) delivered by the Internet to patients in small urban and rural areas. In our study, in-patients (n=78) with acute coronary syndrome or post-revascularization were randomized to usual care (UC) or vCRP. The vCRP was a four-month program that included heart rate monitoring; physiologic data capture; education sessions; ask-an-expert sessions; and chat sessions with a nurse, exercise specialist and dietitian. Participants were assessed at baseline and four months, and followed for another 12 months. The primary outcome was change in maximal time on the treadmill stress test (MTT) between groups adjusted for age, sex, diabetes status and Internet use for health information. The vCRP resulted in a greater increase in MTT by 45.7 seconds (95% CI: 1.0, 90.5) compared to usual care (p=0.045). Cholesterol levels and dietary quality improved in the vCRP compared to the UC group. Participants perceived the vCRP to be an accessible, convenient and effective way to received healthcare. Eleven (30%) and 6 (18%) participants in the UC and vCRP groups, respectively, had cardiovascular-related events (p=0.275). In conclusion, the vCRP was safe and effective and resulted in sustainable risk reduction without the requirement of face-to-face visits and directly monitored exercise.
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