Impact of Early COVID-19 Waves on Cardiac Rehabilitation Delivery in Australia: A National Survey

Susie Cartledge, Emma E. Thomas, Barbara Murphy, Bridget Abell, Christian Verdicchio, Robert Zecchin, Jan Cameron, Robyn Gallagher, Carolyn Astley, on behalf of the ACRA COVID working group

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Background: The novel coronavirus disease of 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic significantly disrupted health care, especially outpatient services such as cardiac rehabilitation (CR). We investigated the impact of early COVID-19 waves on the delivery of Australian CR programs, comparing this time period with usual practice prior to the pandemic (2019) and current practice (2021) once the early waves had subsided. Specifically, we aimed to understand how the delivery of programs during COVID-19 compared to usual practice. Methods: An anonymous online cross-sectional survey of Australian CR program staff was conducted, comprising three sections: program and respondent characteristics, COVID-19 impact on program delivery, and barriers to, and enablers of, program delivery. Respondents were asked to consider three key timepoints: 1) Pre-COVID-19 (i.e. usual practice in 2019), 2) Early COVID-19 waves (March–December 2020), and 3) Currently, at time of survey completion post early COVID-19 waves (May–July 2021). Results: Of the 314 Australian CR programs, 115 responses were received, of which 105 had complete data, representing a 33% response rate. All states and territories were represented. During early COVID-19 waves programs had periods of closure (40%) or reduced delivery (70%). The majority of programs reported decreased CR referrals (51.5%) and decreased participation (77.5%). The two core components of CR—exercise and education—were significantly impacted during early COVID-19 waves, affecting both the number and duration of sessions provided. Exercise session duration did not return to pre-pandemic levels (53.5 min compared to 57.7 min, p=0.02). The majority of respondents (77%) reported their CR program was inferior in quality to pre-pandemic and more organisational support was required across information technology, staffing, administration and staff emotional and social support. Conclusion: Australian CR programs underwent significant change during the early COVID-19 waves, consistent with international CR reports. Fewer patients were referred and attended CR and those who did attend received a lower dose of exercise and education. It will be important to continue to monitor the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure CR programs return to pre-pandemic functioning and continue to deliver services in line with best practice and evidence-based recommendations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)353-363
Number of pages11
JournalHeart Lung and Circulation
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023


  • Cardiac rehabilitation
  • COVID-19
  • Health services research
  • Secondary prevention
  • Telehealth

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