From the Frontline: Clinical impacts of COVID-19 webinar success

Our From the Frontline: Clinical impacts of COVID-19 webinar on Wednesday night had over 1,500 registrants tuning in for the live event.

Hosted by Professor Stephen Jane, the event featured academic clinical and health psychologist Professor Jane Fisher and Associate Professor Julian Elliott, Executive Director of the National COVID-19 Clinical Evidence Taskforce from the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, alongside diabetes researcher Professor Merlin Thomas and neurologist Associate Professor Anneke van der Walt from the Central Clinical School, to present their latest findings.

Viewers were treated to insights on the societal effects of the disease and current endeavours to develop viable vaccines and anti-viral therapies, as well as recent adaptations to the provision of healthcare for those impacted by chronic disease. They also heard how a single-voice for COVID-19 evidence has been established.

Audience members represented a broad range of people from across the field, with clinicians and health professionals for both private and public health service providers, Commonwealth and State health departments, pharma, insurance, as well as research and patient advocacy groups all in attendance.

The evening’s proceedings began with an insightful update from Jane on her major online survey exploring the mental health impacts of COVID-19 restrictions and other societal impacts beyond contracting the disease. (Click here to watch Jane’s presentation).

In her research, which included 14,000 people aged 18-91, she found those who had lost their job because of restrictions were 50% more likely to have clinically significant symptoms of depression. Those who said they had experienced highly adverse impacts from restrictions were more than double as likely to say they had experienced thoughts of self-harm or that they’d be ‘better off dead’.

According to Jane, the early government messages were provided without considering their psychological impacts and she said “many of them were authoritarian, prescriptive, quite critical of the community and punitive”.

“I think we have recently heard messages that are more characterised by empathy, with more recognition of what it’s like for people, and what it is they’re being asked to relinquish in the service of the public good,” she said.

“I feel confident enough in the data to say there is a mental health problem and we do need a response to it.”

Our next panellist, Anneke, introduced audience members to the new face of chronic disease treatment with a particular focus on Multiple Sclerosis, as well as the long-term effects of disrupted care in a data vacuum and during a period as uncertain as our COVID-19 world. (Click here to watch Anneke’s presentation).

Impressed by the flexibility and rapid rate of positive change in the provision of care, Anneke said she expects to see an increased use of telemedicine and the continued more efficient use of resources on the other side of the pandemic.

“We’re seeing a real change to the way we provide care and some of these changes have been for the good of all of us,” she said.

“We will hopefully continue to see [telemedicine] used much more widely and innovatively to connect clinicians with each other, connect multi-disciplinary teams with each other, and also give us the ability to assess people perhaps even in their own environment [after COVID].”

Anneke also noted the challenges for patients who have lost the connectivity of their care and the benefits of physical assessment, as well as for people not working in public hospitals such as private practitioners.

“The impact of [COVID-19] is going to be long-lasting and we’ll have to see how people recover from this,” she said.

Viewers were then treated to an insightful and informative video from Merlin outlining the process in which the virus attaches itself to a host, the scientific rationale for current approaches in attaining a vaccine and other avenues such as anti-viral therapies critical in defeating the disease. (Click here to watch Merlin’s presentation).

When asked about his thoughts on the durability of the immune response following patients demonstrating low levels of antibodies upon recovery from COVID, Merlin said he does not believe “the idea of the absence of antibodies correlating with an absence of immunity [will] be true”.

“What we don’t know is if antibodies disappear [or] or if there isn’t some memory still existing in the body,” he said.

“The data is very observational and has only been used in experimental settings. We need to experiment, we need to support science and [we] need to synthesise it all so that the clinicians, the general public and parliamentarians can focus on the right agents for the right reasons.”

In the final presentation for the evening, Julian highlighted his work with the National COVID-19 Clinical Evidence Taskforce in creating a single source of trusted evidence and said it was designed to take the public and clinicians from “confusion to clarity”. (Click here to watch Julian’s presentation).

The Taskforce, with the support of 200 clinicians in weekly Zoom meetings devised to review new evidence, has successfully created the ‘Australian Guidelines for the Clinical Care of People with COVID-19’ to improve healthcare decision making.

“To date, we’ve created 60 living recommendations and five living clinical flowcharts across a broad range of clinical areas,” he said.

Julian said the period following the pandemic will be a time to review the architecture for dealing with future pandemics and noted the “outstanding talent and depth here in Australia.”

If you missed the livestream, you can re-watch the event here. Click here to watch the Q&A section of the presentation.

The organising team are planning future webinars in this series featuring nurses and allied health professionals from across the Faculty, providing unique perspectives on dealing with COVID-19 on the frontline.

And a reminder that Jane's current mental health survey is still recruiting here.