The COVID-19 pandemic made an enduring mark on our healthcare system and affected the lives of billions worldwide. The virus spread across the globe at an unprecedented rate creating disturbing morbidity and mortality statistics that put everybody on high alert. As many of us grapple with the new reality by staying away from people to avoid illness, healthcare workers put their lives on the line by gearing up and running into the fire. Healthcare workers have emerged as the new soldiers in countries across the world. But, as F. Scott Fitzgerald said: “show me a hero, and I’ll write you a tragedy.” During the pandemic, the risks to frontline heroes are considerably more significant than those encountered in standard practice. In addition to the risk of contracting the virus, health care workers suffer mental and physical exhaustion and emotional pain. Even though some personal dangers are inherent in working in the medical field, these risks have been amplified in a way that justifies associating the word ‘heroism’ with the medical profession.
During a discussion with Top Doctor Magazine, Ben Kenuk, a physical therapist at the University of Pennsylvania hospital, told us, “Adjusting to the new reality is pretty overwhelming and exhausting. I have been on the COVID-19 therapy team since May. We had to adjust all of our schedules to make sure there weren’t too many therapists in the department at one time.” Ben worked in heart failure and on cardiac surgery patients pre-pandemic, but his role changed to accommodate the new reality. Even when the pandemic was at its worst, the hospital only minimizes the number of therapists working on COVID-19 patients just in case of exposure so that other available therapists will proceed with the treatment.
As everyone tries to practice social and physical distancing, healthcare workers rose to action and worked round the clock to provide care to patients with the virus despite the risk of being infected. While discussing the impact of the pandemic on his practice, Ben explained that “patients who require different levels of care couldn’t proceed with their treatment because a lot of the facilities were closing their doors off because they were a lot more selective with who they will accept. Most of our patients stayed a little longer than they should have, which doubled our effort and affected the time we could have spent providing care to other patients.”
Unfortunately, as the frontline heroes strived to keep us safe, the lockdown and the pandemic’s effect became too much for people to handle. Consequently, they were complacent and less careful with the virus. As a result, over 400,000 people have died from COVID-19 related complications since the pandemic began.
Ben Kenuk studied physiotherapy at the University of Southern California and graduated in 2017. His dedication to the practice led to the creation of Mobile Measures, an app for physical therapists to help optimize the use of functional outcome measures. When the hospital was getting crowded during the pandemic outbreak, physiotherapists were doing a lot less than other physicians. Still, Ben wanted to help people get access to care through a unique approach. The Mobile Measure app provides access to patient assessment tools proven to measure critical aspects of a patient’s health and functional status, including hospitalization, risk of falling, frailty, and much more.
This app guides users to the best test, calculates scores, interprets the results and uploads them into a patient’s documentation. Physicians can track progress, visualize their patient’s current condition, and determine the impact of treatment immediately at the point of care.
When asked why he created the app, Ben shared that he wanted to help people access care and improve healthcare providers’ efficiency. “I use it, and a lot of my coworkers use it. However, I don’t feel comfortable pushing people to use it. I have been telling people about it because I believe it will help our practice and help our hospital, but I am now in the process of partnering with other health organizations and software companies to get widespread use of the app and help everyone’s practice.”
As Ben put in the hard work to help people by creating the Mobile Measure app, he faced a really tough challenge to convince people to use the app. He thought that the app would be utilized more during the pandemic. Still, many organizations were reluctant to incorporate a new app into their system. “Theoretically, you think it should be used more, but some health organizations that I told about it put it on hold because their therapists were overwhelmed with the COVID, and they didn’t want to add something new to their practice. Even though it would help them to identify which patients actually needed therapy and improve their efficiency allocating resources a little bit better and minimize the time going to patient’s house, it was just from an administrative standpoint that it is not the right time to implement something new in their practice.”
To overcome the challenge, Ben hired a marketing company to help create awareness so that more people could get to know about the Mobile Measure app. “I was initially doing it myself, just trying to write all these articles on social media, but it is stressful. So I hired a marketing company for a short period of time.” When his savings depleted, Ben struggled to continue with the marketing campaign because it was not really sustainable for him. “It is kind of a balance between time and money. Pay someone to do it or lose another hour of sleep. It is a balance I am struggling with.”
Ben was actively connecting with people hoping that he could build relationships to spread the message about the Mobile Measure app. Still, he immediately surrendered his pursuit for a greater cause when the pandemic ramped up. “It has been a lot harder to develop the kind of relationship with a potential client because I can’t meet them in person.” He hoped that he could start all over again when the pandemic is over. Talking about his experience at the hospital at the time, “We had to shuffle things around a lot, I was brought onto the COVID-19 therapy team, and I saw COVID-19 patients. When the cases started going back down, I went back to usual business. A few weeks later, the number went up again, and I went back to seeing COVID-19 patients again.”
The COVID-19 vaccine was developed rapidly to help combat the raging virus, but the FDA EUA approval triggered mixed feelings across the medical community. In this regard, Ben said, “I am cautiously optimistic. We have heard a lot about the vaccine.
We have been told that healthcare workers will be the first to have access to it, and it would be optional for us to get it or not. Many people are afraid because of how quickly they came out because they don’t want to be the first to take it. But I guess someone has to. I am optimistic that FDA did it after making sure it is safe. I plan to take it when it is available. I definitely have my reservation about it. I am not totally confident, but I think it is necessary.”
He told us that widespread use of the vaccine would take a while because many people will hold off at least a year to see what happens. In his opinion, Ben believes that the vaccine might help with the virus but ultimately, we need to have an extended lockdown again. However, this time it needs to be consistent across states because when the restrictions were enforced in Pennsylvania, people went to New Jersey for social engagements. If there is consistency across the border, we will have fewer cases, and more lives will be saved.
As the whole world struggles with the virus, Ben hopes that the rest of 2021 will be different. Although healthcare providers will likely honor their oath in a time of great need, Ben cautioned that we have to respect the virus because it will not go away. We have to work as a team and do our part to control the spread.