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Q&A with Dr Susie Cartledge
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

Q&A with Dr Susie Cartledge

Breaking down the silos - a pathway from acute hospital care to cardiac rehabilitation

Dr Susie Cartledge is a registered nurse with a background in cardiac and emergency care. She is also a passionate basic and advanced life support instructor. In 2014, Dr Cartledge undertook a PhD to investigate basic life support training for family members of people living with cardiovascular disease.

Dr Susie Cartledge received a Heart Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2020. “This fellowship enables me to continue undertaking my cardiac rehabilitation research. Cardiac rehabilitation is critical for people to attend to reduce the risk of another cardiac event, decrease hospitalisations, improve heart health, and most importantly improve quality of life. “My research aims to improve referral and uptake by providing a pathway for people as they transition from the acute hospital setting to cardiac rehabilitation.”

What are you currently researching?

Cardiovascular disease requires lifelong management to decrease the chance of repeat cardiac events and improve quality of life. Education and skills to manage heart health are learnt in hospital and outpatient cardiac rehabilitation programs. These programs have been proven to help people with cardiovascular disease live a long and healthy life. These programs usually start 4-6 weeks after coming home from hospital. However, awareness of cardiac rehabilitation is low and not everyone who could benefit is referred and attends. There are many reasons for this, including a lack of support for people as they transition between inpatient and outpatient settings.

My research aims to provide support to people in the time between leaving hospital and starting cardiac rehabilitation. In collaboration with consumers, I will co-design new digital interventions to address this gap. These interventions will then be tested in a randomised trial.

What difference will your research make to people’s cardiovascular health in Australia?

Each year, approximately 390,000 people fail to receive the benefits of cardiac rehabilitation (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare). This can put them at increased risk of recurrent heart attacks, hospitalisations, decreased quality of life and even death. Improving access and attendance at cardiac rehabilitation will improve patient outcomes. If uptake of cardiac rehabilitation increased to 60% (from the current low rate of 30%), there would be 823 less hospital stays and an additional 536 lives would be saved over 10 years (International Journal of Cardiology).

What motivated you to do your research?

As a registered nurse with over 15 years’ experience working on cardiac wards, I was  aware of how important it is to deliver education and organise follow up appointments and referrals for people in hospital to ensure they receive the best possible care.

My doctoral research gave me the opportunity to listen to people with cardiovascular disease and their families. I wanted to understand their hospital experiences and their difficulties in accessing care after discharge. Hearing their stories inspired me to improve the way we deliver care. - We need to support people affected by cardiovascular disease and make it easier for them to access and undertake cardiac rehabilitation.

Are there any discoveries from the past year from your research you can share with us?

A study that I am working on now is investigating how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted cardiac rehabilitation in Victoria.

We found that the pandemic brought cardiac rehabilitation delivery into the 21st century. Delivering cardiac rehabilitation via telehealth works and there was a very sudden change in this model of care becoming more available. Both health professionals and participants have adapted well, but there are ongoing issues to address moving forward. For example, telehealth improves access so more people can participate in cardiac rehabilitation, which is great, but we need to be aware more health professionals may be needed to run the programs. While delivery of cardiac rehabilitation via telehealth will continue, it is now timely to review models of care and plan how to integrate telehealth alongside face-to-face programs. Offering choice in service models is key.

What role has Heart Foundation funding had in your career journey?

Without funding from the Heart Foundation, I would not have been able to continue my research. This funding allows me to lead and coordinate the research and helps me to build my track record as an early career researcher. This means I can continue on this path and find solutions to help more people living with cardiovascular disease.

Do you have a message for Heart Foundation supporters?

Thank you so much for your support. By supporting research, you are helping to improve cardiovascular disease care in Australia.

On one nursing shift, I can only care for a small number of people. But through research, I can improve care for thousands of Australians. Your support can make a big difference.

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