Virtual Therapy Helps Patients With COVID-19 Recover at Home

MU Health Care physical therapist Katie Williamson, PT
MU Health Care physical therapist Katie Williamson, PT, assists patients who are recovering from COVID-19 with a virtual therapy program. The program includes special breathing exercises to help patients regain full use of their lungs.

When patients who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 are released to go home, they still need some help to get back to full strength. MU Health Care’s Mizzou Therapy Services team has created a virtual care program to address their needs.

“In mid-March, once we knew we would have patients with COVID going home, we realized that if they went home and quarantined and didn’t do anything, that’s the worst thing a person could do when they’re sick,” said physical therapist Katie Williamson, PT. “They would lay there and get worse.

“So we started looking into what these patients might need. Other departments got on board, like occupational therapy, respiratory therapy and strength-and-conditioning. It became a group project. Then we took it to our physicians, who got excited about it.”

When MU Health Care patients with COVID-19 are discharged from the hospital, they are automatically scheduled for up to four virtual sessions each with a physical and occupational therapist. Depending on their needs, they could also see other therapists. Patients who test positive for COVID-19 but don’t require hospitalization are also encouraged to participate in virtual care therapy. They just need a doctor’s referral for the COVID Recovery Program.

Appointments are conducted through the Zoom video conferencing app. MU Health Care uses the HIPAA-compliant version of Zoom, so patient information is protected. MU Health Care’s language services team can provide an interpreter if patients aren’t fluent in English. The sessions last about an hour.

“We’re giving them breathing exercises, which helps with the deep parts of the lung that we know are affected by COVID,” Williamson said. “It also causes muscle loss. A big factor we’ve noticed in our patients is they’re really, really tired. Their energy is low. Getting them oxygen through the breathing exercises and getting them stronger to gradually increase their activity at home, that’s been the biggest thing we’ve noticed be helpful.”

Occupational therapy helps the patients return to the daily tasks they need to do to be independent.

“We work on strategies to reduce their fall risk and teach them how to be independent again,” said Nicole Jacomb, OT. “We also work on cognitive tasks. If somebody has been intubated, they might have some hypoxia or some minor mental fog. We figure out strategies to work with them to they can manage their medication or pay their bills or manage the steps of cooking — these functional thinking tasks that we all do.”

Speech language pathologist Lauren Laur, SLP, said if COVID-19 has exacerbated a neurological condition and caused problems with speech, voice, memory or thinking, a speech therapist works with the patient to help him or her get back to normal. Speech therapists can also address swallowing disorders, which can affect patients with COVID-19 who have been intubated.

Read more stories like this