PM&R physicians from around the world shared their experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic during a Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Conference panel session at Arab Health 2021. Common trends, irrespective of location, included mental wellbeing and telerehabilitation.
Margeux Blignaut, Director of Rehabilitation, Amana Healthcare, described how the psychological wellbeing of staff and patients in the UAE, “significantly affected” at the beginning of the pandemic, continues to be an issue. Patients were furthermore cancelling rehabilitation services at the beginning of the pandemic because of “heightened anxiety” over healthcare professionals entering their home.
Staff were re-deployed to assist in an in-patient setting meanwhile, resulting in anxiety among those with minimal experience of in-patient settings.
In KSA, many patients were anxious, said Shreemathie Somduth, Rehabilitation Nursing Director, Rehabilitation Hospital KFMC, but they benefited from clear explanations from the rehabilitation team on a daily basis, and online counselling was additionally available.
According to Fahin Anwar - Consultant in Rehabilitation Medicine, Cambridge University Hospitals, the biggest effect seen by rehabilitation services in the UK among patients was “low mood” and lack of engagement due to lockdown and restricted family visits.
In India, an “initial fear and helplessness” in the mind of patients and therapy givers slowly gave way to acceptance of the situation, commented neurologist Nirmal Suryar, President, Indian Federation of Neurorehabilitation (IFNR).
Past respiratory diseases showed that technology could be used to manage patients in rehabilitation, said Anwar. Specific areas of its use prior to the pandemic in the UK included speech-language therapy, patient follow-up and monitoring, telepsychology consultations and tele-exercise group training.
To minimise the risk of viral transmission, most rehabilitation services changed all out-patient clinic appointments to telephone appointments, unless an examination was absolutely necessary.
In KSA, continuity of care was ensured by the rehabilitation team through virtual clinics or telemedicine, revealed Somduth. Telemedicine “played a really important role” in the pandemic.
Suryar highlighted how teleneurorehabilitation was “unknown” in India before 20 March 2020. Low-cost cellular data services present an opportunity to make teleneurorehabilitation an integral part of follow-up services, while there exists a need to infiltrate it into an existing government programme.