HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. -- For nearly six months, the COVID-19 Confirmed (or "CoCo") Clinic, an effort of USF Health and Tampa General Hospital, has connected COVID-19 patients with follow-up care after they're discharged from the hospital.
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"We knew there would be patients in the hospital with COVID and that when they were discharged, they would still need to have follow-up care," said CoCo Clinic Operations Director Dr. Asa Oxner, who's also vice chair for the department of internal medicine at USF. "We also realized that we would probably be able to get patients out of the hospital earlier if the doctors that are treating them in the hospital had faith that they would be able to have somebody to watch over them when they left."
Oxner said medical and nurse practitioner students who volunteer with the clinic have connected with more than 3,500 patients through telemedicine appointments since spring. The clinic is also building a database of information used to care for current patients, then saved anonymously for possible later use by researchers.
"So, if they were interested in, 'How does your socioeconomic status impact your COVID outcome? Are you more likely to get hospitalized or pass away if you're lower socioeconomic status?' Or, 'Are there differences in prescribing practices based on whether you went to the hospital or you never went to the hospital?' Those kinds of questions that impact what we have done to patients or what we might do as we develop more protocols and this disease moves along," said Oxner.
Ylonda Brown-Cutler of Tampa was introduced to the CoCo Clinic shortly after she was diagnosed with the virus.
"Shortness of breath, coughing real bad, fever was 104, I had no appetite, I could only drink stuff," Brown-Cutler said of her symptoms. "I wouldn't wish this on anyone, because it was terrible."
Brown-Cutler was hospitalized during Independence Day weekend and connected to the clinic after she was discharged.
"Once I got home, they were calling me every other day for, like, two weeks," she said. "It was very helpful, because, of course, I couldn't leave the house."
When her symptoms returned earlier this month, Brown-Cutler got back in touch with the clinic. Oxner said about five-to-ten percent of the clinic's patients have lingering symptoms, including shortness of breath, chest pains, fatigue, brain fog, and decreased tolerance for exercise that can persist for months after infection. She said the clinic is putting together work groups and collaborating with NYU on its next phase of work, which she said could include investigating those continuing impacts.
"For us to be able to come up with protocols for how do we manage patients, what kind of testing should we do, what treatments can we do, can we do research that may develop a drug that would help reverse some of this stuff?" said Oxner.