Despite having the same fitness level as everybody else at school, Gary Barber was never able to run as far as the other kids could because, at the age of four, he was diagnosed with a heart defect.
The impact the heart defect had on Barber progressively worsened in his adult life. At one point, Barber, who is now 48, was unable to walk from the lounge room to the bathroom without having to stop halfway down the hallway to take a breath.
“Imagine having somebody’s hands around your throat, or you’ve got a really bad flu where there’s pressure on your chest and you can’t breathe properly. You’re taking a quarter of your breath and you’re trying to walk,” Barber said.
Toward the end of October 2015, Barber underwent emergency heart failure surgery after being admitted into Ipswich Hospital in Queensland, Australia. Barber’s need for surgery came after frequently passing out and being told by his doctor the issue was his lungs and being overweight–not his heart.
“My surgeon said I should have been on his [operating] table a minimum of four years ago,” Barber said.
Post-surgery, patients such as Barber are advised to undertake cardiac rehabilitation (CR) to reduce the risk of a second heart attack. As part of CR, patients are required to make regular visits to the hospital. But, according to Simon McBride, co-founder and CTO of Cardihab, the average cardiac rehab completion rate is only 30%.
In hopes of increasing the completion rate, McBride introduced Cardihab, a smartphone application currently in pilot phase, designed to help patients recover from heart surgery remotely.
Cardihab is a spin-off company from the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), and is also a participant of the HCF Catalyst accelerator program.
He explained a key problem behind why people do not complete their CR program is due to accessibility and convenience.
“The way normal cardiac rehab works is it’s usually a 6-8 week long program where the person has to go to a clinic once or twice a week and that can really be inconvenient, especially for patients who have returned to work, or for rural remote patients,” McBride said.
Cardihab has been designed to collect data about a patient including how many steps a patient has taken, and their blood pressure and sugar levels, via Bluetooth-enabled monitors. The information is then uploaded to the cloud and shared with the patient’s clinician, who can access it through an online portal.
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Based on research by the CSIRO, and through initial trials with Queensland Health, Cardihab has been able to reduce clinical hospital visits by 89% and improve cardiac rehab completion rates by 70%.
While Barber said Cardihab has raised his personal awareness, it was not something he was initially open to trying. His initial thoughts about the program was that it was a ” damn waste of time,” but after completing the six-week Cardihab program with encouragement from one of the nurses, he said anyone who does not do the program would be a fool.
“It made me more aware about what I was doing…I had a machine to be accountable to, I had a set of scales I had to be accountable to, and I had a blood pressure machine I had to be accountable to,” Barber said.
There were also conversational check-ups over the phone with the nurses, which would often involve discussions about why he was unable to take as many steps during certain days, Barber said, pointing out he’s also a sufferer of gout and that restricted his movements.
McBride said the application gives the opportunity to “empower” patients.
“I think it’s true to say getting patients more engaged is a big trend and something healthcare systems are trying to do. With [Cardihab], it gives people the ability to engage more with their care, and drive that feedback loop to the clinician and that’s still the most important thing: The conversation between the patient and clinician is the heart of the cardiac rehab program; the technology just helps the clinician deliver that program in another way,” Mcbride said.
Although it has been a physical recovery, it has equally been an emotional one, too, Barber said.
“When recovery is mentioned, what people don’t understand is the emotional trauma. They don’t understand the ongoing after affects,” Barber said.
While Barber believes there’s still a long road ahead to full recovery, the results are already showing. He said it’s now only taking him 10 minutes to feed the horses on his property, when it used to take 45 minutes.
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