The SARS-CoV-2 infection (COVID-19) drastically altered the fabric of our society—with lasting changes. Since 2020, clinic owners have adapted to treat patients both in-person and virtually. And although the public health emergency ended in early 2023, patients experiencing long COVID continue to come to rehab therapists looking for help.
Long COVID—or Post-Acute Sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC)—continues to affect 6% of the US population. And from the early days of the pandemic, research and treatment options have been developed so rehab therapists can be front-line providers in treating patients with chronic COVID symptoms.
Chronic COVID symptoms can last for weeks—sometimes even months.
The long-term effects of COVID-19 affect patients in a variety of ways, manifesting with widely different symptoms at widely different levels of severity. But if there’s one thing COVID patients have in common—no matter how mild or severe their illness—it’s that nearly a third of them report experiencing “lingering symptoms a median of 6 months after infection onset.”
Living with PASC
PASC (or long COVID, as it is still referred to colloquially) has garnered much research and attention since the start of the pandemic and is now described as a multi-system disease with over 200 listed symptoms. The three most common symptoms reported by patients include:
- extreme exhaustion (chronic fatigue syndrome),
- post-exertional symptom exacerbation (PESE), or
- problems with memory and concentration (brain fog).
With such a long list of symptoms, and sometimes a poorly defined nature of dysfunction, patients can have much difficulty living with chronic COVID symptoms—especially when they are dealing with fatigue or PESE in addition to post-traumatic stress disorders. Luckily, that is where rehab therapists can really make a difference in these patients’ lives.
Rehab therapists have an opportunity to help.
A handful of these symptoms are musculoskeletal in nature, which means PTs and OTs are perfectly equipped to step in and treat these patients. Helping patients overcome muscle weakness and improve their ability to complete ADLs is a hallmark of the rehab therapy discipline—and many therapists already have experience treating patients with chronic fatigue.
Treating the Cardiopulmonary side of Chronic COVID
Do you specialize in cardiopulmonary rehabilitation therapy? If so, you may have a huge opportunity to help post-COVID patients rehab their cardiopulmonary system. Symptoms including shortness of breath or chest pain are common in patients with chronic COVID placing increased urgency on implementing pacing and breathing activities common in rehab therapy practice.
Providing Holistic Healing
Aside from the physical impairments associated with chronic COVID, many people with long COVID experience difficulties with mental health or even post-traumatic stress disorders that rehab therapy can help with. Although rehab therapists are not licensed psychology practitioners, there certainly is a place for mental health in rehab therapy treatment for these patients.
All of this is to say that rehab therapists could play a pivotal role in ameliorating population health and improving the lives of millions (yes, millions) of COVID patients.
Bolstering the PT Brand
The PT branding problem has been around for years, and industry thought leaders have kicked around countless ideas for reversing rehab therapy’s status as the “best-kept secret” in health care. Stepping up to treat COVID patients may not be the silver bullet everyone’s looking for, but it’s an excellent opportunity for PTs and OTs to take center stage and prove the value of their services and expertise.
Clinics can adjust their marketing campaigns to better target COVID-19 patients.
Resolving to help COVID patients is all well and good—but it won’t mean anything unless you actually get those patients into your clinic. That’s why it’s mission-critical to construct and implement marketing campaigns that are tailored to patients with long COVID. Start by reaching out to your referral sources—or perhaps even members of a local COVID treatment program—to let them know you can assist them in recovering from COVID-19. Then, be sure to notify your current and past patients about your COVID-specific therapy services.
Publicizing New Services Online
Beyond that, make sure your digital marketing efforts account for long COVID rehab services. Update your website with information about PASC treatment—and write a blog post or two on the subject while you’re at it. Post about your long-haul services on social media—and consider creating some paid ads to promote these services. Finally, because COVID-19—including long COVID—is a hot topic of conversation around the entire country, consider writing a press release about your services and floating it to local news sources. If you’re quick on the drop, they may be interested in publishing or airing a story about your practice.
COVID-19 may have turned the world on its head, but rehab therapists have many opportunities to adapt to, and overcome, these changes. Not only that, but PTs and OTs stand to make a real difference in the lives of those suffering from chronic COVID—if they’re ready to take the leap.