Virtual learning sessions boost expertise, build patient confidence
By the fall of 2020, it was clear to many family physicians that some BC survivors of the COVID-19 virus were not bouncing back from the illness and didn’t think the medical system was properly addressing their issues.
The challenge of course was that doctors everywhere were having to learn as they went, trying to keep in step with both current research and patients’ emerging symptoms. And with COVID-19 being so new, the nature of long COVID was not yet fully understood.
BC ECHO Offers Virtual Learning Community
To address this problem and to ensure that all family physicians were up-to-date with the most current information, the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA)’s Post-COVID-19 Interdisciplinary Clinical Care Network, in partnership with Providence Health Care, established BC ECHO for Post-COVID-19 Recovery in July 2021 – a virtual learning community of specialists and community health care providers funded by the Shared Care Committee.
Learning Together with Real Case Studies
Based on the global ECHO model, the BC ECHO for Post-COVID-19 Recovery provides opportunities for physicians to learn together during monthly hour-long online sessions. The sessions start with a 20-minute presentation, followed by descriptions of real-life cases, and a question and answer period with participants. Although most presentations are provided by specialists, an occupational therapist and a social worker have co-presented with their expertise as part of the post-COVID-19 interdisciplinary approach. Two patients with lived experiences also advise the group’s planning team. An average of 200 participants attend the Tuesday noontime sessions.
The ECHO program brings family physicians up to speed on identifying and managing post-COVID-19 symptoms using a standardized approach that reassures their patients, says Dr Lesley Wood, a Vancouver family physician who helps determine course content as a member of the ECHO Hub team. She says this strategy allows for the appropriate investigation of symptoms while discouraging over-investigation.
Long-COVID Patients Often Don’t Need Specialists
Long COVID is now regarded as a major complex care disease whose many symptoms include cognitive brain fog, shortness of breath, joint pain, and fatigue.
Referrals to specialists for post-COVID-19’s multiple symptoms are often unnecessary, says ECHO Hub team member Dr Jill Calder, a Kamloops physiatrist who has participated in two of the ECHO presentations and works with a Post-COVID-19 Recovery Clinic (PCRC): “A knowledgeable, confident family physician can reassure anxious patients that their symptoms are being well managed and are likely to dissipate over time. A family doctor should have all the information at their fingertips and feel confident and comfortable to participate in the patient’s care, and know when to refer, where to refer, and what to do.”
As a result of participating in the ECHO Hub, Dr Calder says she feels as “up-to-date” as anyone in the province on post-COVID care. She and Dr Wood agree that engagement projects like this ECHO program are also helping to connect family physicians and specialists, creating a collegial atmosphere where they can more readily touch base.
Keeping Up With New Information
Dr. Wood, who joined the Post-COVID-19 Interdisciplinary Clinical Care Network before taking on her role with the ECHO Hub, appreciates the fact that BC ECHO updates its long-COVID information monthly. For example, although it appears that most patients recover within three months, results are variable. Patients are now advised to take their recovery slowly and not push themselves when exercising, which can cause setbacks.
The live BC ECHO for Post-COVID 19 Recovery presentations are scheduled through July 2022. Available online, they include:
- Physical Rehabilitation and Return to Work for the Post-COVID-19 Patient
- What the Family Physician Needs to Know
- A Mental Health Perspective
- Persistent Disability, Programs, and Required Forms
- Neurocognitive Symptoms and Rehabilitation
- Top 10 Challenges for Family Practitioners in Caring for the Post-COVID Patient and How to Navigate Them
- An Overview of Long Haulers
- Self-Management Strategies, Resources and Tools for Common Post-COVID-19 Symptoms