How advanced primary care is the hero of long COVID treatment

| March 3, 2022

Discover why working with a primary care physician is the best way for COVID long haulers to find relief from brutal symptoms 

Despite the average positive test rate of COVID-19 cases trending downward in the United States, the virus is brutally affecting recovered patients long-term. [1]

A recent study discovered that more than one in three patients experienced at least one symptom three to six months after testing negative, a condition commonly referred to as long haul COVID-19. [2]

What is ‘long haul’ COVID-19?

‘Long haul’ COVID-19 is a condition in which patients experience a variety of new, returning, or ongoing physical and mental symptoms four or more weeks after initial infection of COVID-19 when there is no longer any live virus in the body. [3,4]

The condition is also commonly referred to as long COVID, post-COVID syndrome, and long-term COVID-19 as well as post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 (PASC) in medical terminology. [4]

Some of the symptoms that long COVID patients are most commonly experiencing for weeks or months after initial infection include:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Tiredness or chronic fatigue
  • Trouble thinking or concentrating 
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Chest or stomach pain 
  • Heart palpitations 
  • Sleep issues
  • Mood changes [3]

Patients who experience these lingering symptoms have both reported having severe initial illness and illness so mild that they had no symptoms at first. [3]

What are the treatment options for COVID long haulers?

Since there is still very little known about the condition and its risk factors, treatment options for COVID long haulers are currently limited. 

There are research studies and clinical trials underway that are seeking answers for the people whose lives are being put on hold by the brutal long COVID symptoms they fight each day. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) even announced late last year that they were launching one of the most ambitious studies on long-haul COVID-19 by assessing approximately 30,000 demographically diverse patients over the span of one year. [5]

Although the findings from these ongoing studies will be extremely beneficial in the future, patients who need help today are seeking symptom management at long COVID clinics and primary care offices.

Long COVID clinics are a popular care method for long haulers seeking support from a medical team with a broad range of specialties fit to manage individual symptoms. [6] Despite these clinics emerging across the country, they remain in limited geographic areas. If a patient is close enough to access one of the centers, they often face extremely long wait times that prevent them from getting the immediate care they desperately need. 

How do primary care physicians support long COVID patients?

With the limitations of post COVID care centers, patients are finding that turning to their trusted, established primary care physician is the best way to manage their harsh physical, mental, and emotional lingering COVID-19 symptoms.

By considering the patient’s medical history and thoroughly assessing current symptoms, primary care providers can create a tailored care plan with achievable goals that are focused on treating individual symptoms and conditions. 

Many physicians will request labs or imaging to aid in constructing the care plan, but they will also understand that a lack of abnormalities does not invalidate the presence or severity of the symptoms reported. [7]

If the primary care provider operates under a patient-centered care model, they will ensure their patients feel heard and supported through every step of the care process. They will remind the patient that there will be ups and down throughout their recovery process and patience will be essential on the road to healing.

Mental health issues are another aspect of long COVID that primary care providers can assist their patients in finding help with, in turn aiding in the additional improvement of physical symptoms due to the mind-body connection. 

A primary care provider can enlist a team of nurses and medical assistants to work together in support of patients throughout the different phases of their long COVID illness and subsequent recovery.  

How we can help

Although little is known about long COVID, the medical teams at our WeCare tlc health centers across the country are committed to providing comfort and care to our patients as they navigate the ups and downs of recovery from COVID-19. 

As part of our chronic condition management services, patients can gain peace of mind in knowing that their trusted medical team can help them find the right course of treatment for their lingering COVID-19 symptoms. 

Our medical teams are well-equipped to support COVID long haulers, thanks to our focus on providing high-quality, patient-centered care through better doctor-patient relationships, referral management, and a disciplined focus on health improvement.

“Our doctors, nurse practitioners, and medical assistants all work together to create the best possible care plans for our patients,” shares Raegan Garber Le Douaron, President and CEO of WeCare tlc. “Once the plan is solidified, our nurses help patients execute the outlined goals to improve their overall health.”

“Beyond each individual clinic, our medical teams at our health centers across the country connect with one another through open channels of communication to exchange treatment ideas and challenge each other to better serve our patients,” concludes Raegan. 

Our medical teams kindly shared stories of the journeys they’ve walked alongside their patients on to fight COVID-19 and long COVID through comfort and care:

Patient A: 
“Our patient tested positive for COVID-19 on January 5, 2022 and has since experienced persistent symptoms. She’s had 16 follow up appointments with the clinic since her initial diagnosis. Her chest X-ray showed “COVID pneumonia”. She was sent for consultation with two different pulmonologists and had two chest CTs. The second chest CT showed cardiomegaly. The patient had persistent chest pain and shortness of breath. Lab work revealed elevated D Dimer and the patient also presented with swelling of one leg. The patient was sent for doppler ultrasound of her leg and is now awaiting her cardiology consult to be scheduled. This patient has been unable to work for the last two months and has continuous headaches, insomnia, and low grade fever. We are coordinating services and closely monitoring the patient to track progress and help alleviate the effects of her long COVID symptoms.”
— Michael S., Lead RN at Pioneer Health & Wellness Center

Patient B:
“The patient presented to the clinic on December 12, 2021 after a COVID-19 exposure and symptoms of runny nose, chest tightness with shortness of breath on exertion, and a fever of 100°F.  The clinic was able to provide a PCR test confirming the patient was positive for COVID-19 within 30 minutes of the test. 

A telehealth appointment was scheduled that day and the patient was able to receive prescriptions for symptom management as well as a monoclonal antibody treatment. The Lead RN performed a follow-up call on December 23 and it was found that although the patient received the monoclonal antibody treatment, his symptoms were persistent—cough developed, congestion, and shortness of breath on exertion. 

Our physician, Dr. Zaki, was consulted and the patient was prescribed antibiotic therapy. On December 28, the patient received a negative COVID-19 test and reported much improvement in symptoms aside from throat drainage. The Lead RN followed the patient closely with follow-up calls to track progress and found the patient had lingering symptoms of chest congestion/tightness. The Lead RN was able to educate the patient on prescribed inhalers as well as schedule the patient for a visit with Dr. Zaki where steroid injection was given. During that visit, it was also noted that the patient had high blood pressure. Dr. Zaki was able to work up the patient for high blood pressure as well and we’ve started the patient on medication. By January 24, the patient reported resolution of symptoms and has been taking his blood pressure medication. He is now scheduled for a follow-up regarding his blood pressure.”
— Lauren D., Lead RN at Pioneer Health Center – LCO

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Learn more about our advanced primary care services or contact us today to answer any additional questions.

1: Mayo Clinic | U.S. COVID-19 map: What do the trends mean for you?
2: PLOS Medicine | Incidence, co-occurrence, and evolution of long-COVID features: A 6-month retrospective cohort study of 273,618 survivors of COVID-19
3: CDC | Post-COVID Conditions
4: Johns Hopkins Medicine | COVID ‘Long Haulers’: Long-Term Effects of COVID-19
5: WebMD | Major Study Will Investigate Long-Haul COVID-19
6: Survivor Corps | Post-COVID Care Centers (PCCC)
7: CDC | Post-COVID Conditions: Interim Guidance