15th April 2021
As the world clambered to make the switch to virtual interactions when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, the physiotherapy team in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda were already well ahead of the curve.
The team’s COPD patients have been availing of the world’s first virtual home-based pulmonary rehabilitation exercise and education programme since 2019
Patients take part in bi-weekly group sessions of up to eight people, reducing the cost and physical effort of attending at the hospital, as well as eliminating the risks of picking up infection, so vital during the pandemic.
Celine Meehan, Physiotherapy Manager for Our Lady of Lourdes and Louth County Hospital, was responsible for securing funding for the initiative and getting it over the line.
“In early 2019, we began looking at ways that we could use digital technology in our services to make them more accessible to people and improve outcomes. We worked with other clinicians, such as respiratory consultants, and mPower, a cross-border project to aid older people living with long-term conditions, and came up with the idea of a home-based rehab programme for people with COPD,” said Celine.
“One of the reasons that we looked at people with COPD is because they are a vulnerable group – they are often very breathless, carry their own oxygen supply, and their mobility can be poor. Car parks can be far from the hospital and it is difficult for them to get around. They are also at a risk of picking up an infection while in the hospital. It was a natural group to pick for the project.”
Removing these barriers to attendance has meant that there has been an increase in both engagement and compliance from COPD patients. All that is needed is a device and a connection to the internet. They use everyday items, such as tins of beans, during the exercises so there’s no need for expensive gym equipment.
Respiratory Clinical Specialist Cathy Gillen said that there has been very positive feedback from patients for the virtual classes, which results have shown are comparable to the face-to-face sessions.
“People are really happy with the classes. One lady said she can literally get out of the bed, switch on the computer and be ready to do the exercises. Having the classes live means that patients have an incentive and a motivation to take part that you don’t see as much in pre-recorded videos,” she said.
She highlighted the social interactions through classes that can be such a lifeline for people cocooning for over a year now.
“They are in groups of eight and they get to know each other better each week. They can see each other and build up relationships. We can hear them having a great chat with each other. That social interaction is so important and it is a great incentive to keep them coming back for each session,” said Cathy.
As well as the exercise classes, the patients also receive educational videos each week, produced by the same multi-disciplinary team. They use the Irish platform Salaso for the videos and classes.
“Education is such a key part too,” explained Cathy. “Each week we send out a video on a particular subject, such as an explainer on chronic lung disease, how to use your inhalers, managing breathlessness, dietary guidelines, and managing anxiety and depression. We also give them a chance to chat about those subjects or ask any questions they might have about it during the live sessions.”
The experience of the Drogheda team has meant that they have been involved heavily with the National Respiratory Clinical Programme for Respiratory in writing and collaborating on the national guidelines for running virtual pulmonary rehab classes. They have been contacted by respiratory teams up and down the country, as well as from far-flung places like California, the Philippines and Australia, to share their expertise.
RTE Reporter Sinead Hussey met up with the Drogheda team in recent weeks and a news feature on the project was broadcast in recent days: