SAN MARCOS — A gift from the PSH Foundation of Wimberley has proven to be the final piece of the puzzle for Southwest Texas State University’s telehealth initiative, allowing the one-of-a-kind program to begin serving the cardiovascular rehabilitation needs of Texans as soon as September.
SWT opened the only university-based Transtelephonic Exercise Monitoring (TEM) program in the nation last December with a $113,000 gift of equipment from ScottCare Corporation, a leader in telemetry and telemedicine patient monitoring systems for cardiopulmonary rehabilitation and home health care. The $204,000 PSH Foundation gift fully funds the telehealth program for the next three years, allowing SWT to meet daily operation expenses, hire a full-time grant secretary and develop and expand its physician referral network.
“ The intent for us is to keep this a Texas program, specifically reaching those who are geographically displaced and at a lower socioeconomic level, and therefore unable to receive rehabilitation,” explained Donald Shaw, Ph.D., P.T., director of the SWT telehealth program. “The three year period will help us begin to establish a reputation as a quality service. It will broaden our referral base, and should, after that time, make us self-sufficient.”
The PSH Foundation was established in 2001 as a grant-making entity supporting health, well-being, independence, public welfare and emotional stability in primary Texas communities to include, but not limited to, arts and cultural affairs, education, health services, human services, public/society benefit and religious organizations.
The President of the PSH Foundation, Patti S. Harrison, said she puts special emphasis on education, health and youth in Texas.
“Having been raised on the flat swamps of southeast Texas, I love ‘The Hill’ and also the hills of Wimberley,” Harrison said. “My first two years of college at Southwest Texas I decided to go into the ‘medical world.’ This, through the years, provided me with a very successful professional and financial life.
“ Therefore, I have no choice. It was the right thing to do. Probably due to my upbringing and life’s experiences, I must give back!” she said. “I feel that there are many people and causes who are under-funded by the large, well-established community charities. So it is my goal to try to reach these people.”
The first group of rehabilitation patients could be admitted to the program as soon as September 1, and initial plans call for at least 12 patients in the first year, with numbers doubling or even tripling in ensuing years. SWT Physical Therapy students will work with the cardiac rehabilitation patients long-distance, using state-of-the-art technology that will enable them to talk and view ECG data simultaneously as they monitor heart patients and guide exercise therapy. Initial participation will be limited to those with heart disease diagnoses, such as recovering from heart attacks, chronic heart failure, bypass surgery and heart valve surgery. Eventually, the program would expand to include other rehabilitation conditions.
“We are be the only program in the nation to offer this kind of advanced training to physical therapy students,” said Dr. Shaw. “We are the only university in the nation that will offer this service to patients.
“ Other universities offer telemedicine programs, but they use a form that is strictly digital,” he said. “But, when you talk about indigent folks, when you talk about someone who’s geographically displaced somewhere in the Rio Grande Valley, they’re lucky to have a phone. So the goal here is to keep it simple to reach more people.”
The technology is key to the program’s universal reach. Fully compatible with analog phone equipment, the ScottCare system is able to overlay a digital rider on the primary analog signal, transmitting both physiologic data and voice data simultaneously. For those who geographic isolation makes travel to medical centers a hardship, this program opens up an entirely new realm of rehabilitation possibilities.
“ Now cardiac rehabilitation is literally available to anyone with a telephone,” said Dr. Shaw. “And they don’t have to leave their home to receive the service.”
Patients or physicians interested in learning more about the SWT TEM program may contact Dr. Shaw at (512) 245-3949.