Around half of patients waiting for outpatient pulmonary rehabilitation have been provided virtual care in a newly developed programme at St Michael’s and St Vincent’s University Hospitals in Dublin. The move to virtual pulmonary rehabilitation outpatient classes for patients with chronic lung conditions has helped to continue provision of patient care, as group classes for these patients remain paused. Dr Sarah O’Beirne, Consultant Respiratory Physician at St Michael’s and St Vincent’s University Hospitals, said the standard outpatient pulmonary rehabilitation programme has been on hold since March, leading to a shift towards more virtual care. “We’ve been running a virtual pulmonary rehab programme, which began during the pandemic,” she told the Medical Independent.
“We’ve had several groups complete the programme already and have seen good results with it. This is a programme people do from home where they log into live sessions and complete an exercise component. “We also have the educational parts. It’s all done virtually apart from the preand post-rehab assessments, which are done in the hospital. It’s a much safer way from an infection control perspective for patients and for staff.” There have been improvements in symptoms, quality-of-life and walk distance scores in patients who took part in the virtual programme. The virtual programme has helped increase numbers among those who may not have been able to travel. However, it is evident that virtual classes are not suitable for all patients, Dr O’Beirne said.
“The downside is it’s not suitable for everyone. We know from contacting people on our waiting list for the regular rehab programme that only 50 or 60 per cent of them would be suitable to partake in the programme, due to a combination of access to technology, technological literacy and disease severity,” she said. “Then there’s also the aspect that for some patients, depending on their condition, it may not be safe for them to exercise at home in a less supervised fashion. “It’s about recognising the limitations of virtual care while recognising its definite role, particularly when we are in the throes of a pandemic.” In terms of those who cannot access virtual clinics, some severally ill patients have been offered inpatient rehabilitation, but the remainder are waiting for the outpatient programme to resume. In March, there were 60-to-70 people on a waiting list for outpatient pulmonary rehabilitation and this has since increased. It is not yet known when standard services will resume.