A digital healthcare programme treating patients with Long Covid is set to be rolled out across UK hospitals.
The Living With Covid Recovery Programme has been designed to treat people who are experiencing long term symptoms of the virus, such as tiredness, breathlessness and anxiety, weeks or even months after the peak of their infection.
Patients can access the programme, which includes exercise, dietary advice and mental health support, via a mobile app after they've been discharged from hospital.
The programme has been created using evidence-based methods from physiotherapists, psychologists, dieticians and respiratory physicians, to provide bespoke treatment plans for each patient. Several universities, the National Health Service (NHS), patients and the software developer Living With Ltd worked together to create the programme, which combines treatments and exercises already well established in the NHS and used to treat individual symptoms.
There are two main components to the programme. Patients experiencing long lasting symptoms usually visit their doctor, who can then refer them to a Long-Covid clinic. There a doctor goes through a set of questions with the patient to make sure the programme is right for them.
A physiotherapist or nurse will help co-create a recovery plan and show the patient how to use the app. They will keep in touch with them regularly to help with exercise and treatments and offer support.
As well as the app, an assigned nurse or physiotherapist can access a dashboard to track patients’ health and progress, message them, and adapt their care to fit them.
Lastly, there is a wider NHS team to support patients if needed. This is part of the care pathway that can be adapted to fit local needs and NHS resources.
Currently in use by several trusts in England, it is being rolled out to more hospitals after successful pilot studies in London have showed it helps NHS staff manage large caseloads of patients safely and well.
The first version of the rehabilitation tool targeted three common symptoms: fatigue, anxiety and breathing problems, but subsequent versions are targeting neurological problems, depression, and loss of taste and smell among other issues. The programme will continuously evolve over the next 12 months as it learns from the data it acquires and the use of AI.
“The proportion of people needing further help is really high" respiratory physician Dr Paul Pfeffer from Barts Health NHS Trust said. "We’re finding that half of the patients we discharge from hospital are still experiencing significant symptoms after three months. There are simply not enough staff and resources to reach everyone recovering from Covid-19 who are in need of using traditional models of care, such as face-to-face appointments. This tool allows us to provide high-quality treatment to large numbers of patients simultaneously.”
Experts have also commended the tool for including mental health support. “The mental health component of the digital tool is just as important as the physical" said psychologist Dr Stuart Linke, UCL Primary Care and Population Health and Camden and Islington Mental Health NHS Trust.
"We are finding that the symptoms are often interrelated – for instance, if you’re feeling anxious you may be less likely to eat well, which may lead to further tiredness, which further impacts your mood and so on. A core feature of the recovery tool is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) delivered by psychologists to help with anxiety."