In view of the World Heart Day 29 September, the European Commission has put on line the success story of EU-CaRE!
An app to keep elderly heart patients active and independent
Older people recovering from cardiac problems regularly miss out on life-changing rehabilitation. An EU-funded project has harnessed new technology to include this often-forgotten population.
Recovering from a cardiac event such as a heart attack or heart surgery can be a difficult time. This is why coronary patients across Europe have been invited to take part in a period of cardiac rehabilitation – a mix of exercise and education sessions, proven to have a positive impact on patients’ health and quality of life.Despite the effectiveness of cardiac rehab, participation rates among people aged 75 and older are routinely low. Approximately 20 % of seniors suffer from cardiac disease but many older people are not willing or able to travel to hospital for regular rehab sessions.To address this issue, the EU-funded EU-CARE project worked with health-tech company HC@Home to design a smartphone app that would enable the elderly population to participate in cardiac rehab sessions without leaving their homes. In a follow-up study, the EU-CARE team proved their software significantly improved exercise capacity compared to patients who did not participate in any such programme.‘We succeeded in improving the exercise capacity among our trial participants, which is a major achievement,’ says project coordinator Arnoud van ’t Hof, cardiologist at Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands. ‘Raising a person’s exercise capacity not only guards against recurring heart problems but also ensures their quality of life. We know that patients who cannot exercise gain weight, fall, break bones and feel dizzy. They are no longer independent. They cannot go to supermarket themselves or walk well.’
Healthcare at home
To trial the app, the EU-CARE team enlisted 180 participants across seven countries who were all recovering from a cardiac event. The patients received a smartphone with the rehabilitation software uploaded and a chest band to wear during exercise, to monitor their heart rate and send the information to the app.While telemonitoring – using technology to monitor a patient’s health remotely – is already being used in other areas of healthcare, the project team shaped the technology to ensure it was relevant for elderly coronary patients, who are an often-forgotten population.The app incentivised users to exercise – telling them when they had done better than the day before, for example – and the software acted as a patient portal. If users had questions, they could contact their physiotherapist or physicians via an online chat and receive responses the same day.‘I’m most proud of this part of the project because we developed a tool that can bring cardiac rehabilitation up to date,’ says van ’t Hof. ‘We created a programme that can be personalised and can offer real support without the patient travelling to a facility.’
The number of elderly coronary patients is expected to rise in the coming decades as the EU’s ageing population poses a formidable challenge for healthcare systems in Member States. This makes the findings of EU-CARE even more important. The software developed by the team suggests a cost-effective alternative to the current cardiac rehab system, while encouraging patients to keep fit, healthy and independent.Eventually, van ’t Hof hopes EU-CARE’s findings will be applied as standard. ‘We want to continue building evidence that telemonitoring is essential for cardiac rehabilitation so that this can be included in the official medical guidelines,’ he says. ‘This project is a step in the right direction.’
Project acronym: EU-CARE
Participants: Netherlands (Coordinator), Denmark, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Switzerland
Project N°: 634439
Total costs: € 6 434 243
EU contribution: € 5 593 048
Duration: May 2015 to April 2019