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New hope for rural B.C. heart patients

September 10, 2009

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SFU kinesiologist Scott Lear is looking for rural recruits to test an Internet-based alternative to city-hospital cardiac rehabilitation programs (CRPs), which the vast majority of eligible patients don’t attend because they live too far from a city.

Armed with a $284,000 grant from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of BC and Yukon, Lear is studying the effectiveness of delivering interactive, virtual cardiac rehab programs to rural heart-disease patients right in their homes.

In a 2007 study, he found that virtual rehab is just as effective as hospital-based therapy. "Rural residents are most likely to be hospitalized for chronic illnesses such a cardiovascular disease," says Lear, a professor in SFU’s biomedical physiology and kinesiology department. "But most rural hospitals don’t have access to cardiac rehab programs."

The new study participants will have access to one-on-one chat sessions with a nurse, dietician and exercise specialist, as well as downloadable exercise heart-rate monitoring, educational programs, and data monitoring for blood pressure, weight and glucose.

Lear’s 2007 study analyzed the impact of virtual cardiac rehab on 15 people who were on a waiting list to receive CRP at St. Paul’s Hospital.

He found that their improvement in exercise capacity—a key marker of heart health—was double that of a control group after 12 weeks.

The study also revealed that their cholesterol, blood pressure and body weight improvements were comparable to those of hospital-based CRP participants.

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