The role of Physios in the treatment of COVID-19

Monash Alum, Jason Pereira, graduated from Monash with a Bachelor of Physiotherapy (Honours) in 2017 and has worked in the Alfred Hospital’s ICU through the two COVID-19 peaks.  He explains how  physios are the experts in turning the patients, or “proning” them – it helps their breathing if they’re on their stomachs. The procedure is carried out by a team of ​at least seven.

Professor Hodgson is a part of the Covid-Recovery study exploring the long-term outcomes for COVID-19 ICU patients.  She says “The COVID-19 Recovery Study will increase the understanding of the roles that physios are asked to play and are capable of playing in any future pandemic or surge in ICU. Even with a vaccine we will still be dealing with its effects for a long time.”

“What we can see is that there are very specific issues these patients are left with. Even at three months, up to 40 per cent of them have persistent shortness of breath. These are not new symptoms, this is a population of COVID survivors and patients who had shortness of breath upon presentation to hospital.”

“They also have muscle aches, extreme tiredness and even an ongoing persistent cough for long periods. Similar to other ICU cohorts, at three months they have decreased function and quality of life, particularly around exercise capability.”

“We know now if we just leave our patients lying in bed for seven to 10days they can lose up to 20 per cent of their muscle mass. So early rehab is considered best practice in ICU now. But COVID-19 patients are harder to rehab because there can only be minimal exposure, everyone is wearing PPE, moving a patient is complex, there’s minimal staff and equipment in the room. The challenges are really, really difficult."

“Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is a life support machine for people who have a severe and life-threatening illness that stops their heart or lungs from working properly. Globally ECMO has increased 500-fold and, in Australia, its use in hospitals has more than doubled in the last few years.”

“There is so much still to learn about how COVID-19 affects the body, and how best to treat it – and those challenges certainly don’t stop when a patient leaves hospital. Long after this latest wave passes, there will be people who are going to need support and we need to start planning for that now.”

Dive into the challenges faced by physios on the frontline of COVID-19 ICU wards in this Lens article.

For more news, and to explore becoming a physiotherapist, visit https://www.monash.edu/medicine/spahc/physio/news