Tokyo COVID-19 Countermeasure: "Post-COVID Condition Hotline" to ease patients' anxiety

While many patients suffer from various COVID-19 aftereffects, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government(TMG) has set up a "Post-COVID Condition Hotline" at metropolitan hospitals to support those in need.

Many COVID-19 patients still suffer from the disease long after it is gone. In addition to abnormality in sense of smell and taste, patients may also experience symptoms such as fatigue, sleep disorder, and breathing difficulties. These symptoms may persist as long as over three months in some cases. While these physical effects tend to resolve over time, patients' anxieties grow the longer their symptoms persist.

Moreover, as these symptoms vary significantly across individuals, they are difficult for others to identify. There are multiple cases where patients felt mentally overwhelmed because their symptoms are not well understood by doctors, colleagues, and family members.

As patients recover and complete their COVID-19 treatment, they began to experience anxiety as they are unsure if they should visit the hospital again and do not know where to seek advice from.

In response to these issues, the TMG has set up a "Post-COVID Condition Hotline" to offer medical consultation and advice for patients who are still experiencing the effects of COVID-19 even after they have completed treatment. In addition to the four metropolitan hospitals of Ohtsuka Hospital, Komagome Hospital, Bokutoh Hospital, and Tama Medical Center in Tokyo, starting April 26th 2021, this hotline service is also available at hospitals operated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Health and Hospitals Corporation (TMHHC).

What kind of consultation requests has the hotline received so far? To learn more, we spoke to Satoshi Miyakawa, Director of the Medical Service Support Section, Office of Metropolitan Hospital Management, TMG.

"From the launch of the hotline on March 30th to April 23rd in 2021, we have received a total of 158 consultation requests from patients of all ages, ranging from teenagers to people in their 70s and older. The most common symptoms experienced are abnormality in sense of smell and taste, as well as fatigue."

According to Miyakawa, around 30% of all patients who have sought a consultation were those in their teens to 30s. "It has only been a month since we launched this service, so we do not have enough data yet. However, the figure of 'around 30%' points to the fact that even young people are suffering from the effects of Post-COVID Conditions."

What is frightening with the trend of young people is that those who did not initially experience any symptoms after testing positive for COVID-19, are now subsequently suffering from its long-term effects without realizing it.
"The actual symptoms vary from patient to patient, regardless of their gender or age. For instance, some claim that they experience a burnt smell constantly, while others feel that everything they eat tastes salty," says Miyakawa.

When patients call the hotline, they are interviewed by a nurse over the phone about their symptoms and physical condition. Patients are able to, first time for many, consult their specific concerns, such as what kind of doctor they should visit or simply "is there something wrong with my body?" This service offers patients a channel of consultation that they can take advantage of instead of worrying alone in silence.

The staff of the hotline

"There is still no established treatment method for Post-COVID Conditions. In fact, the reality that COVID-19 poses a risk of persisting effects itself is still not widely recognized. Above all, we hope as many people as possible to become aware of the existence and risk of Post-COVID Conditions, and leverage our hotline service when they suspect that they might be experiencing these symptoms. Depending on their condition, patients are either be advised to visit their family doctor or a healthcare institution near their place of residence, or be referred to a metropolitan or TMHHC-affiliated hospital on an outpatient basis," Miyakawa says.

The Post-COVID Conditions are not limited to physical symptoms, some patients also suffer from anxiety and negative impact on their social life. By reaching out to the hotline, patients can receive advice on how to address various problems in their everyday life that cannot be tackled through medical care alone.

* Post-COVID Condition Hotline is available in Japanese.

Text: Kyousuke Akasaka, Translation: Vincent Gan