FPTR-Funded Researcher Points to Respiratory Muscle Performance as a Potential Factor in COVID 19 Outcomes

In a recent paper via The American Journal of Medicine, Richard Severin, PT, DPT, CCS – a current FPTR scholarship recipient – and coauthors contribute to our understanding of the COVID 19 pandemic crisis by taking a closer look at respiratory muscle performance.

The authors note that the global pandemic has stunned even the most developed healthcare systems by overburdening intensive care units and mechanical ventilation support. Patients with pre-existing or underlying health conditions tend to be those most reliant on these resources.

Rich Severin

Rich Severin

The authors hypothesize that respiratory muscle performance is an unappreciated factor in the COVID 19 pandemic. Measures of respiratory muscle performance are not routine in clinical practice, even among patients with poor baseline health. Looking towards the future, the authors suggest a model to improve outcomes of pandemics that may include screening in high-risk populations. A respiratory muscle training program could be prescribed to those who might benefit, potentially reducing the downstream dependence on healthcare systems.

Severin notes that the pandemic has brought many health disparities to light. “There is a clear and apparent connection between baseline health status and outcomes from this viral pandemic,” says Severin. “Unfortunately, in the United States, poor health and multimorbidity are more the norms than the exception. Even prior to the pandemic, healthcare resources, especially intensive care resources, were already heavily utilized which impaired our ability to accommodate this surge in cases.”

Severin sees an important role for physical therapists in the current pandemic, noting those practicing in acute care will play a critical role in managing and mitigating the acute effects of COVID infection in addition to secondary complications due to hospitalization.

Due to COVID 19-related social distancing measures, many FPTR-funded researchers have had to pause their work.  For those who can move forward, Severin offers encouragement.

“The most important thing to realize is that the situation is different and affects everyone differently,” says Severin. “We must manage our expectations and offer grace to people whose lives have drastically changed. I encourage people to think creatively about how they can use their skills as a scientist to be productive and contribute positively to society. Perhaps there is a database analysis project that you could work on or a systematic review that you could conduct. This would be a great time to finish manuscripts that you didn’t have time previously to complete. This is also a great time to share your expertise of science to the public to help curtail the spread of medical misinformation surrounding this pandemic.”

Despite the immediate needs of the pandemic, however, Severin stresses that researchers must stay committed to high-quality science: “We cannot let urgency forgo the necessity of good research methods.”

Severin was awarded the FPTR $15,000 Promotion of Doctoral Studies (PODS) II Scholarship for his dissertation, “Respiratory Muscle Performance: A Predictor of Clinical Outcomes in Morbidly Obese Patients.” This 2019 Scholarship was made possible through the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) Scholarship Fund. He hopes his research will result in preoperative screening tools that can be used to avoid post-operative complications. He also hopes that respiratory muscle training could be implemented by physical therapists to improve the exercise capacity in obese individuals and their overall health.


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