The physiotherapy team at the Hamad Medical Corporation is implementing a number of creative solutions to ensure their patients continue to receive the specialist care they need at a time when public health measures put in place to contain the spread of Covid-19 have meant that many treatments and hands-on therapies are only available for the most critical of cases.
Each year the Physiotherapy Department at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) provides physical therapy to patients during more than 270,000 outpatient visits.
However, the Covid-19 pandemic has changed every aspect of how healthcare is delivered, Chief of Physiotherapy at HMC Noora al-Mudahka said, adding that her team has worked hard to ensure patients are continuing to have access to physiotherapy services.
"We immediately started planning to adapt our treatment programmes so that physical therapy services were not interrupted and that the progress of our patients was not compromised. At any given time, we have hundreds of patients under our care and as a team, we were determined to ensure these patients continued to have access to the physical therapy interventions they required while also ensuring their potential exposure to the Covid-19 virus was reduced," she said.
Around 80% of HMCs regular outpatient services are now being provided through telemedicine, with clinical teams across all specialties providing care during more than 27,000 telephone consultations each week.
With male, female, and paediatric physiotherapy clinics at Qatar Rehabilitation Institute, Rumailah Hospital, Bin Omran Physiotherapy Centre, Al Wakra Hospital, and Al Khor Hospital, al-Mudahka said the first step in launching the virtual service for the Physiotherapy Department involved consulting with each patient by telephone.
"Our teams called each patient to determine if there were any changes in their condition since their last outpatient appointment. They assessed what tools and exercise equipment patients had in their home and began working on individualised treatment plans that allowed patients to safely continue their rehabilitation from their own home," said al-Mudahka.
Acting Male Outpatient Supervisor and Physical Therapy Specialist Kamel Zaaror said if the patient has a computer, tablet, or smartphone with a camera, his team can continue caring for them, even though they are not in the treatment facility.
"A big proportion of physiotherapy involves hands-on treatment, but physical therapy is also about observing and assessing someone's movement and listening to them talk about what causes their pain, and this can be done very effectively virtually. Technology is allowing our physical therapists to demonstrate a series of exercises, ask the patient to perform them, and then determine what is and isn't possible by having the patient describe whether the pain increases or decreases with the motion," said Zaaror.
Zaaror says while a virtual system is not ideal in every situation, most patients have adapted well.
He says a surprise benefit to the launch of the telemedicine service has been the realisation that having greater control over their rehabilitation can lead to a better outcome for some patients, and he noted that there are plans to further expand the service.
"Through our telemedicine service, we are currently caring for over 3,000 patients who are recovering from a range of illnesses and injuries. We are also continuing to expand the services we provide and are developing interventional exercise videos specific to various clinical conditions, such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, post-operative, and guiding mothers in the care of babies who had been ventilated.
"Each video will be customised for the various phases of recovery. We plan to deliver this service through a link shared with patients through SMS and will monitor the progress of our patients through virtual consultations," added Zaaror.