During the course of the existing program, patients are hooked up to heart monitors and use various kinds of cardiovascular exercise equipment, including treadmills and rowing machines, while being observed by a nurse. The program also includes giving patients information on the cardiovascular and pulmonary systems, diet, exercise and lifestyle choices. Patients are periodically tested on the information.
The current program, headed by its founder, Anna Oster, a registered nurse, has had a staff of two full-time registered nurses, one full-time licensed practical nurse and one part-time respiratory therapist. These personnel have been offered other positions at the medical center, according to McDowell spokesperson Mary Begley.
The current program is available only to patients who have been ordered to take it, is limited to 12 weeks and is for patients who have had a heart attack, heart surgery or a pulmonary illness. On average, 15 to 20 patients have been enrolled in the program every month.
In contrast, in the new monitored exercise program, individuals will be able to choose to participate on their own with approval of their physician or they may be referred by their physicians, said Begley. Their participation in exercise will not be limited to 12 weeks, she said.
Individuals with other illnesses will be able to participate
The monitored exercise program also will not be limited to participation by individuals who have had a heart attack, heart surgery or pulmonary disease, Begley said. Individuals with other illnesses, such as high blood pressure or heart failure, may also participate, she said.
The program offers several advantages, said Begley. One of those is the fact that patients may continue their exercise program even after their physician has determined that their recovery is complete, she said. In addition, more options for exercise are available at the Wellness Center, including a swimming pool, a wide variety of cardiovascular equipment and regular structured programs.
Begley said another benefit is a cost savings for the participants. Currently, patients who receive services through the cardiopulmonary rehabilitation program pay $16 or more per visit, even after reimbursements from their insurance company or Medicare. The new program will cost patients only $10 per visit.
"Based on research, we believe that the individuals who participate in the monitored exercise program will continue exercising past the 12 weeks that is typical under the current cardiac rehabilitation program," Stone said. "We believe this will occur, in part, because individuals will be exercising as a group in the monitored exercise program and research has shown that individuals stick with an exercise program better if they exercise with a buddy."
Research published in the American Journal of Cardiology shows more positive outcomes to participants in long-term exercise programs.
"Individuals who participate in long-term exercise programs tend to exercise more consistently and they also exercise in groups where relationships are developed," said Audrey Powell, vice president and chief nursing officer at the medical center.
Research shows positive results
Powell noted that the research in the American Journal of Cardiology also showed more positive results in terms of cardiac deaths. According to the American Journal of Cardiology, the rate of cardiac deaths among patients who completed a traditional cardiac rehab program was 2.2 percent over a five-year period while the rate of cardiac deaths among patients who participated in a monitored exercise program focusing on lifestyle changes was .8 percent over a five-year period.
"Because greater success has been seen with exercise programs that generate lifelong changes, many insurance companies and the Medicare program are now taking a closer look at their reimbursements for traditional cardiac rehab programs," Stone said.
Individuals who participate in the monitored exercise program will be supervised by a nurse certified in Advanced Cardiac Life Support and may also have their blood pressure, heart rhythm and oxygen levels monitored during exercise.
"We are excited about offering this monitored exercise program and the benefits it will offer to the community," Stone said. "Our ultimate goal is to develop lifelong exercise habits that will improve individuals' health status."