BRITISH Columbians who are recovering from COVID-19 now have access to three post-COVID-19 recovery clinics at St. Paul’s Hospital (SPH), Vancouver General Hospital (VGH), and the Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre in Surrey.
In addition to the direct care provided to patients, the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) has provincial oversight for coordination and for integrating knowledge and best practice at the clinics through a new Interdisciplinary COVID-19 Care Network (ICCN).
Health Minister Adrian Dix said on Friday: “We know some people who recover from COVID-19 experience long-term health effects. Through the dedication of a large team of experts and health leaders across the province, we are working to ensure that specialized care is available to British Columbians, when they need it.”
The clinics provide an opportunity for patients to receive specialized care and allow for specialists to further understand the long-term adverse effects of COVID-19. The clinics connect patients with a network of specialists, allied health professionals and subspecialists through a mix of on-site and telehealth-enabled appointments.
“This new network ensures that B.C. patients not only will have access to care in the most efficient manner but that we will be sure that we have a province-wide approach to learning more about how best to manage this new condition,” said Dr. Adeera Levin, lead of the ICCN and currently executive director of BC Renal, within PHSA. “The network is a first in kind for any province to our knowledge, rooted in patient centered care and innovation.”
Dr. Zachary Schwartz, internist and physician lead of the VGH clinic, said: “We quickly identified the need to learn more about the potential long-term effects of those suffering from COVID-19 in order to provide the support needed to British Columbians. The clinics will offer standardized assessments, education, and opportunities to participate in research studies. The network of clinics will allow us to learn from each other, understand patients’ journeys in more detail, and provide the expert level of care expected.”
The St. Paul’s Hospital clinic has already seen more than 160 post-COVID-19 patients. Physician lead and internist Dr. Jesse Greiner said, “We want patients to feel like they are not alone. We are here. We’re listening. With patient partners, researchers, specialists, and primary care physicians across many health authorities, we are working together to learn from and support one another to ensure that patients get the care they need.”
“As we move through the COVID-19 pandemic, we are learning that the long-term effects of COVID-19 impact people in many different ways. For this reason, it is crucial that we work together to ensure our patients get the care they need to recover from this virus,” said Dr. Victoria Lee, President and CEO, Fraser Health.
Research is a key component of this network, particularly since the clinics have thus far seen the small percentage of patients who were hospitalized with severe COVID-19. One early joint VGH – SPH – UBC study showing more than half of participants had abnormal breathing tests three months after they first started feeling sick with COVID-19. Further examination with CT scans showed one in five had lung scarring, which is permanent damage that will lead to compromised lung function.
“COVID-19 presents a special opportunity for research — we are leveraging the unprecedented focus on a single threat to bring together investigators and patients, who would otherwise be isolated, to create and mobilize new insights to benefit our community and beyond,” said Dr. Chris Carlsten, Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) Scientific Director of Legacy for Airway Health and professor of medicine and head of the division of respiratory medicine at UBC.
Prior to the opening of the clinics, patients were receiving specialized care with standardized post-COVID-19 protocols established by a large team of experts from Fraser Health, Providence Health Care, VCH, BC Centre for Disease Control, PHSA and several others.
Post-COVID-19 care expertise is also available to medical practitioners around the province, usually within the same day, through the Rapid Access to Consultative Experts phone line. In addition, educational materials are being developed to support patients and physicians.
The clinics are currently seeing COVID-19 patients who are discharged from hospital, as well as those referred by other physicians.