Rehab Therapists can Play a Role in Long-Haul COVID-19 Recovery

It’s been nearly a year since COVID-19 began spreading in the U.S. As the world continues to learn more about the virus’s impact on the body, we’re also becoming keenly aware of how physical, occupational, and speech therapists can help in post-COVID-19 recovery. 

For what are being referred to as “long-haul” patients and those who spend prolonged periods in the ICU, therapists can help patients return to how they felt before coming down with the virus. 

Long-Haul Patients Face Unique Challenges 

For a majority of COVID-19 patients, symptoms remain mild and dissipate after 14 – 21 days. But an estimated 10% to 35% report experiencing symptoms like shortness of breath and muscle weakness for months. For those experiencing long-haul symptoms, their hospital and recovery time is much longer than other COVID-19 patients and requires additional medical rehabilitation.

Long haul COVID-19 patients are reporting symptoms including:

  • Coughing
  • Ongoing fatigue (struggling to stand up, wash dishes, ect)
  • Joint pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Brian fog
  • Headaches

Patient ages range from 13 to 90, with an average age of 56. Continued care and assessment from a range of doctors and therapists is necessary to help long haul patients. 

How Rehab Therapists Can Help COVID-19 Patients Recover

Rehab therapists across the country are sharing stories from patients who are suffering from prolonged COVID-19 symptoms. A man in Minnesota was hospitalized for two months; his time included being intubated and he faced kidney failure. But after spending nine months in occupational therapy, he can now drive short distances and is recovering muscle strength. His therapy team quoted his recovery plan as being similar to brain injury patients. 

Physical, speech, and occupational therapists are needed to help patients return to their former, normal lives. Not every clinic will have the resources to necessarily create a COVID-19 speciality program, but nonetheless, therapists’ skills are needed for the unique needs of these patients. 

Here are some options if you and your clinic are thinking about getting involved:

  • Partner with specialists — partner with pulmonary specialists to evaluate and monitor patients throughout their course of care.
  • Create clear but flexible goals — create goals similar to other therapy programs, such as strength, flexibility, and endurance, but incorporate EKG monitoring, breath capacity, and other patient concerns. 
  • Follow necessary safety protocols — it would be wise to adhere to standard COVID-19 safety protocols to keep you, your staff, and other patients safe. 
  • Train staff of unique needs of long-haul patients — you may need to train your staff on how to use new equipment, like how to take blood pressure during exercises or monitor oxygen saturation.
  • Adapt and learn as you go — Monitor your program as needed to address the continually shifting situation and the needs of long-haul patients. 

Share Your New Services with Referring Physicians and Past Patients

If you plan to help address long-haul COVID-19 patients, share the news with your referring physicians and past and current patients. If you have a referral program in place with specialists, general practitioners, or others, let them know of your new intention to help these patients. 

Share the news via social media and email your patient network to further spread the word. While it may seem like a niche market, those in your network may know someone who is suffering and could use the help. 

However you choose to communicate, be detailed about how your therapy clinic will address the specific needs of recovering patients. Speak to exercises or activities that you offer and how they’ll help with fatigue, build strength, address breath capacity, and any other details. 

Stay Informed

Continue to stay vigilant about new information being released on how to treat COVID-19 and how therapy services can help. 

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