How Can Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Help COVID Long-Haulers?


Listen to how a doctor in rehabilitation who works with patients with brain and neurologic injuries is now working with patients with long COVID.

Clinicians can see a great deal of overlap between patients with long COVID and those with brain and neurologic injuries. They experience similar symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, headaches, difficulty getting back to their everyday life, mental health concerns, difficulty sleeping, and ringing in their ears. Recently, one clinician started working with a recovery clinic to help these patients manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Infection Control Today® (ICT®) spoke with that clinician, Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez, MD, professor and Distinguished Chair of Rehabilitation Medicine, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. She is the chief of the physical medicine and rehabilitation service line at the University Health System and medical director of Neurorehabilitation and Critical Illness Recovery at Warm Springs Hospitals of San Antonio. She is also the volunteer leader and member of the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AAPM&R). Further, she is also a co-author of APM&R’s consensus guidance statements on long COVID.

Whether Verduzco-Gutierrez treats traumatic brain injury patients or long COVID patients, the common theme is recovery—helping patients fully recover to regain their quality of life. Her clinical focus is traumatic brain injury, stroke rehabilitation, and interventional spasticity management, and she brings that expertise to discuss how to help COVID long haulers as they suffer from physical, cognitive, and functional difficulties.

Verduzco-Gutierrez speaks about how often long COVID is seen in children and how the symptoms in both differ. She also covers the gaps in care for recovery and other challenges that she sees for these long COVID patients. “Some of the gaps in care first [are] health literacy and education. There are still people suffering, who probably don't even realize that they have COVID-19 or that their family members are dealing with long COVID symptoms,” Verduzco-Gutierrez told ICT. “ And so that is one thing, we have to get education about our lack of access to certain treatments. First, we're kind of behind and the trials; we did very much warp speed to get vaccines and to get antivirals. And now we don't have that same warp speed regarding long COVID and [the] treatment for long COVID. And many treatments are just being done as symptom management. And some of that is being done in special long COVID clinics that we support, like an AP [Advanced Placement] seminar where we have a past collaborative, and these are clinics that get together and discuss best practices. But that is not accessible to everyone yet. And they have long waitlists as well.”

Patient care should be patient-centered, Verduzco-Gutierrez said. “I'm always going to be a proponent of making sure that the patient voices are heard, that we center the patient, that we listen to them, that we are making sure that we're addressing their needs, and that we just continue to try to make sure that research is done. Continue to make sure that, you know, Congress is putting money in support into the patients' needs, whether that be their disability, or long COVID clinics or the research to continue to find answers.”

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