News: LUC3 winds down operations after two years of supporting COVID-19 patients

After two years of successfully supporting COVID-19 patients and the Southwestern Ontario health care network during the pandemic, the London Urgent COVID-19 Care Clinic (LUC3) is wrapping up its operations in late March 2022.

LUC3 was created in April 2020 as a telemedicine clinic to remotely monitor and manage community-based patients with COVID-19. It was founded with support from The Centre for Quality, Innovation and Safety (CQuInS) at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and a provincial grant.

The clinic aimed to monitor patients for hypoxemia and other signs of decompensation, with the goal of circumventing hospitalization and freeing up inpatient capacity.

“Back in April 2020, the intention of LUC3 was originally to respond to the surge of acute infections at that time and during subsequent waves, when there was very little in terms of support in this area,” said Dr. Erin Spicer, Assistant Professor, Medicine and member of CQuInS.

In early 2021, as hospitalizations surged during the third wave in Ontario, London’s health care system had urgent need for inpatient capacity for acutely ill patients, along with COVID-19 positive patients transferred from other sites.

LUC3 rapidly evolved to support the early discharge of patients with COVID-19 that still required oxygen therapy at home through remote management of oxygen therapy and daily follow up.

The clinic found patients with COVID-19 pneumonia can be safely and successfully discharged with supplemental oxygen when supported by telemedicine monitoring, with the program also allowing for increases in inpatient capacity by facilitating early discharges.

Among patients who used the clinic services and responded to an experience questionnaire, 88 per cent were confident with instructions given by LUC3 staff and 88 per cent felt clinic staff made them less anxious.

“We have been assessing aspects of patient care, such as the safety of sending patients home on home oxygen, patients’ readmission to hospital, cost of this model of care and the patients’ experience. Thus far, we have observed that patients with COVID-19 pneumonia can be safely discharged with supplemental oxygen when supported by telemedicine monitoring,” Spicer explained. “LUC3 is both highly acceptable to patients and associated with low readmission rates, allowing for efficient use of limited inpatient resources.”

With COVID-19 trends improving, more community respiratory therapy programs developing their own initiatives for virtual health care surveillance of patients, and dedicated follow-up for patients discharged from the respirology inpatient unit, LUC3 will stop accepting new referrals on March 31.

Patients already enrolled in the clinic will continue to receive support in the coming weeks and months.

“The last two years has allowed us, as a health care community, to learn more and for our community colleagues to develop new programs to look after patients in a primary care setting, such as the Community Access Centres,” Spicer explained.

The LUC3 team will continue to focus on further analysis of what has been learned throughout the pandemic and how it can be utilized to make improvements to patient care in other areas.

“We plan to use these observations to help inform the planning of similar models that may be applied to other populations in order to optimize acute care for patients,” Spicer said.

Dr. John Yoo, Dean, Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, said LUC3 is a reflection of the ingenuity of the School’s clinical teams and their drive to provide innovative care to the community.

“I’m extremely proud of the work done by the LUC3 team during the past two years,” he said. “Their dedication to community care has been invaluable to the region’s pandemic response, and the insights gained from the clinic will lead to improvements in patient care and telemedicine beyond Southwestern Ontario.”