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Rehab needed for U.S. News & World Report story on cardiac rehab

The Benefits of Intensive Cardiac Rehabilitation Over Ordinary Cardiac Rehabilitation

Our Review Summary

Cardiac rehab for heart diseaseThis is a cardiologist-penned article on the benefits of intensive cardiac rehabilitation (ICR) versus “ordinary” cardiac rehabilitation (CR). While it doesn’t seem to be a standard reported news story, it was published in the health section of U.S. News & World Report, placing it within our purview.

At first glance, this story appears to be hyper specific. A sample sentence: “Most of these hospitals averaged over 48 sessions per patient in the second half of 2015–over double the industry average for ordinary CR.”

This sentence is emblematic of the piece overall, because it does not reveal anything about the actual impact of intensive cardiac rehabilitation on health outcomes. Nor does it provide any information about the quality of the research being cited.


Why This Matters

About 40% of adults will have a coronary problem–and the effectiveness of rehabilitation programs has huge health and economic implications.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Satisfactory

Costs were not included, even though the price tag for this type of care is likely quite high–regardless of whether the bill is paid by patients, insurers or Medicare. Some explanation of costs was warranted.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The story relies on relative terms to quantify the benefits of the treatment and provides no absolute numbers.

More troubling is that it only refers to health outcomes in one sentence, saying that cardiac rehabilitation–which is not actually the focus of the piece–has “been proven to be particularly effective in helping patients recover and stay healthy. Research indicates that CR improves five-year mortality rates by 25 to 46 percent for patients following a heart attack or other cardiac event.”

But what about the “intensive” CR, which is the focus of the headline and the article?

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?

Not Applicable

Medically supervised cardiac rehab carries relatively minimal potential for harm, so we’re giving this a Not Applicable rating.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The story tells us this: “One of the Medicare-approved programs, Pritikin ICR, is based on a lifestyle change program that has more than 100 peer-reviewed studies validating its effectiveness, including significantly reducing levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, body mass index and blood pressure, as well as reducing risk factors for diabetes, breast cancer, prostate cancer and other comorbidities.”

That’s a lot of beneficial outcomes being touted as validated. But readers can’t ascertain the quality of those studies based on this summation alone. Were these mostly large, randomized trials? Or small, early trials? Have there been any systematic reviews or meta analyses of these studies? Any notable criticisms? What about the other types of ICR–does this research apply to those programs as well?

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


The story does a good job of explaining the need for improving outcomes for people who have suffered a heart attack or other serious cardiac event, and it doesn’t disease monger.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?

Not Satisfactory

One of the sources in the story, R. James Barnard, Ph.D, is a paid consultant at the Pritikin Longevity Center, which promotes “Pritikin ICR.” His ties with that group should have been made clear. Also, one of the doctors interviewed in the story works for a hospital system that announced recently it also has partnered with Pritikin.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

There are various approaches to post-heart attack rehabilitation–including within the ICR universe–but this wasn’t made clear. How do those other approaches stack up?

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


The reader can infer that both CR and ICR are available to the general population. But we’re not given an idea of just how widely available ICR is, even though it’s being positioned as the newer, more beneficial option. It’s also not clear if there is insurance coverage outside of Medicare.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The story provides background information on intensive cardiac rehab programs becoming available in “recent years,” establishing that this isn’t a brand-new or emerging concept. That’s a sufficient enough effort to rate Satisfactory.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


The story does not appear to rely on a news release.

Total Score: 4 of 9 Satisfactory


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