Launching a Long Haul COVID-19 Clinic

December 21, 2021
Kevin Kunzmann

A look into how Allegheny Health Network launched its multi-specialty referral system for post-hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

The goal for Tariq J. Cheema, MD, and his colleagues at Allegheny Health Network (AHN) was simple: create a database for the “long haul” COVID-19 patients returning to outpatient clinics to better understand the trends, patterns, and needed care for this essentially new patient population.

They decided the clinic could manage patients virtually, facilitating new cases to relevant sub-specialists by phone and allowing clinicians to address patient needs by email or virtual chat.

“What happened is the minute we opened that clinic in April (2021), we got inundated with phone calls,” Cheema told HCPLive. “It just got overwhelming for how many people needed this.”

To date, approximately 550 patients are using the AHN long COVID-19 outpatient services, which grew rapidly from a small remote team to a series of offices around the health network’s reach in western Pennsylvania.

In an interview with HCPLive, Cheema, Chief of the Division of Pulmonary / Critical Care Medicine at AHN, discussed how he and a team of varying specialists launched a clinic for post-hospitalization patients with COVID-19 that would contribute to the growing understand of long-haul symptoms.

“The patients that we saved and got better, when they got discharged from the hospital, we all thought it was a success,” he explained. “But there were many patients who were coming back through the emergency room within a couple of weeks with some kind of cardiac issues, pulmonary embolisms—different ailments.”

Cheema discussed the varying presentations occurring in these returning patients: pulmonary burden, persistent tachycardia, neurological deficits, loss of smell and taste, among others. He estimated that half of all long-haul patients they’ve handled are suffering from a depressive disorder.

In the video above, he discusses how much more there is still to learn about long-haul COVID-19 rehabilitation.

“We tell the patients all the time, ‘We don’t have all the answers’,” Cheema said. “We’re trying to figure this out ourselves as our colleagues in other institutes are in their COVID-19 clinics.”


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