Last Updated: 2007-09-21 15:04:20 -0400 (Reuters Health)

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – A set of performance measures released Thursday by three major cardiology groups aims to up patient enrollment in cardiac rehabilitation programs and set new standards for program excellence.

Previous research has suggested that use of cardiac rehabilitation services can cut the risk of death after a cardiac event by as much as 25%. In addition, participation in a rehabilitation program can greatly improve physical strength and endurance, which could determine whether a patient is able to resume an active lifestyle.

Despite this proven efficacy, many patients who have experienced an MI or other major cardiovascular event are simply not referred for rehabilitation, according to the report, which was produced in collaboration by the American Heart Association, American College of Cardiology, and the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation. At present, fewer than 30% of patients who are eligible for rehabilitation actually receive it.

"This is a call to arms," Dr. Randal J. Thomas, chair of the writing committee, said in a statement. "Cardiac rehabilitation is extremely beneficial to patients — there’s plenty of evidence of that — but it’s vastly underutilized." Dr. Thomas is at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

The authors hope that the measures will make referral to cardiac rehabilitation programs an automatic response for clinicians, just like starting aspirin therapy after an MI. The report provides guidelines on patient selection and even includes sample referral forms.

To ensure program excellence, the report sets standards for several aspects of care, including medical supervision, patient assessment and monitoring, and communication with the patient’s private physician.

The new measures are slated to appear in the October 2nd issues of Circulation and the Journal of the American College of Cardiology as well as the September/October issue of the Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Prevention.

J Am Coll Cardiol 2007;50.