How to Reduce Inequity of Access to Cardiac Rehabilitation After Surgical Aortic Valve Replacement. Recommendations for the Post–COVID-19 Era From a Real-World, Population-Based Study



      Cardiac rehabilitation (CR) is a class I recommendation after valvular surgery. Few data exist on the level of access to CR after surgical aortic valve replacement (SAVR), and the factors affecting the probability of timely access to CR after SAVR have never been empirically investigated. This study aims at estimating the proportion of SAVR patients who initiated timely CR and understanding to what extent timely access to CR for SAVR patients is influenced by specific characteristics of patients and hospitals.


      We conducted a real-world, retrospective, population-based study by identifying from the Italian National Hospital Discharge Records all the discharged alive SAVR patients who accessed timely CR from 2009-2016. Two different cutoffs for timely access were considered, i.e. one and 21 days after discharge. A unique dataset was constructed by merging several data sources. Multiple logistic regressions were performed to identify the factors influencing the probability to access to timely CR.


      107,545 patients underwent SAVR in Italy from 2009-2016 and were discharged alive. Overall, 71,593 SAVR patients (66.6%) accessed timely CR, with an increasing trend over time. Additional 6,149 patients (5.7%) started CR from 2-21 days after discharge, slightly decreasing over time. The probability of timely CR (one-day cutoff) was significantly higher in older (OR=1.025, p<0.001) female patients (OR = 1.003, p<0.05) and patients with cardiovascular and cerebrovascular comorbidities. Presence of rehabilitation wards and number of rehabilitation beds in the index hospital significantly increased the probability of timely access to CR (OR = 1.105, p<0.001 and OR = 1.006, p<0.001 respectively). Patients hospitalized in private teaching hospitals had the highest predicted probability of timely CR after SAVR. A substantial variation in access to CR was found across Italian regions. Similar results were obtained with the alternative 21-days cutoff.


      Approximately one-third of SAVR patients did not benefit from CR in Italy, mainly due to shortness of rehabilitation facilities, with relevant disparities across the country. The cessation of CR services during the COVID-19 pandemic provides the opportunity to re-think and innovate CR, shifting from center-based to home-based models. Digital health technologies can supplement traditional health services and grant safe, effective, and equitable access to care, especially for countries with insufficient rehabilitation bed capacity. As CR is associated with better outcomes, we recommend decision-makers to use our results to plan adequate healthcare services, also investing in digital health, to ensure patients’ access to cost-effective care.

      Graphical abstract


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