Vanderbilt University Medical Center is launching a clinic to treat people with chronic COVID symptoms. Similar programs are popping up around the country for so-called “long-haulers,” since symptoms can persist for as many as half of COVID patients.
There’s still not a ton known about these extended illnesses, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognizes the phenomenon. Some patients are still on oxygen months after being discharged from the hospital. And it’s not just in folks who had a severe COVID case.
Dr. Sara Martin has helped establish the new program at Vanderbilt and says common symptoms are fatigue, weakness and foggy memories.
“I think a lot of people are left with these vague symptoms and wonder, is there anything I can do? Is this ever going to get better?” she says. “And part of our hope was to provide a place to have some therapies to ideally help with those, if possible. But also validate their concerns.”
Patients don’t need a referral from their doctor and can just contact the Vanderbilt COVID hotline (888-312-0847, option No. 2) directly to set up a virtual evaluation. The clinic is not a physical space but a streamlining and prioritizing of adults who’ve had COVID with symptoms lasting longer than a month.
Patients may be directed to cardiologists who are developing a specialty with COVID or physical therapists who’ve had experience working with fatigued patients. At this point, the treatments are still in development, with studies coming out every week.
“We’re going to be learning some of that on the fly. One of the challenges working with this group is staying up to date with what’s coming out,” says Dr. Cecelia Theobald, vice chair of clinical affairs at Vanderbilt, who is overseeing the clinic. “It’s a lot to keep up with.”
There may also be drugs that will be repurposed for COVID treatment in the coming months, and patients will be well positioned to participate in clinical studies if they choose to.