Parkview Health has begun serving a small but significant group of COVID-19 patients who recover from the acute stage of the disease but still experience symptoms weeks or months later.
The patients, sometimes called COVID long-haulers, can have difficulty convincing doctors that they still don't feel well.
But that's about to change, Parkview neurologist Dr. Fen-Lei Chang said Thursday during a news conference.
Space at Parkview Regional Medical Center has been dedicated to serve as a new Parkview Post-COVID Clinic.
Lingering symptoms – brain fog, fatigue, muscle weakness, continuing inability to taste and smell, headaches, persistent shortness of breath or ringing in the ears – are “not crazy at all,” Chang said.
“This is absolutely real,” he said.
So far, the clinic is open one day a week to patients of doctors within the Parkview system. A limited number of patients have been seen so far but plans are to see 10 a week.
Hospital officials believe patients will increase as the pandemic winds down, said Tami Brigle, a Parkview spokeswoman.
In Allen County alone, more than 37,000 cases have been documented in the year since the first cases were documented.
Chang said the clinic will take a multidisciplinary approach, bringing together specialists from physical and occupational therapy to neuropsychology and cardiology if needed.
“Post-COVID is so individualized,” he said. “Everyone is different.”
Because the virus is so new, there's no standard treatment or cure for post-COVID problems, Chang said. But doctors can run tests to determine whether problems are or aren't attributable to the disease and make symptoms more manageable, along with offering treatments as they emerge, he said.
Changes in diet and exercise can help, Chang added.
The clinic's specialists hope to contribute to emerging COVID-19 science by documenting the condition. That could happen through collaboration with Parkview's Mirro Center for Research and Innovation and the local Indiana University Medical School, Chang said.
Researchers are establishing COVID-19 not just as a disease of the lungs but as a multisystem disease, Chang said. He believes the body's immune system might remain turned on and cause lingering inflammation.
His theory, he added, is that the body's autonomic nervous system, which regulates automatic body functions including digestion and heart rate below a person's awareness, also might be involved.
How visits might be covered by insurance is evolving, Brigle said. They are now billed as individual specialist visits, she said.
The Lutheran Health Network Physician Advisory Group has considered a COVID-19 long-hauler clinic, said Joy Lohse, spokeswoman, in a statement.
The group at present recommends patients consult their primary-care doctors, who can recommend diagnostic tests and refer patients to specialists, the statement says.
IU Health has a COVID ICU Recovery Center at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis but nothing in the Fort Wayne area, said Jonathon Hosea, spokesman.
The center is designed for those immediately coming off intensive care but can be accessed after that, Hosea said. Patients need not be affiliated with IU doctors to be referred, he said.
Parkview clinic's patients must be at least 18 years old, have a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis, continuing symptoms for at least four weeks after diagnosis and, for now, be referred by a Parkview-affiliated doctor.
“Our goal is to restore the function and well-being of our patients one at a time,” Chang said.
“We definitely see the light at the end of the (pandemic) tunnel, but we are going to need to focus on post-COVID care.”