We introduce: Robert Hoepner, Senior Physician in Neurology

Who advises Altea on technical issues of Long COVID? Here we introduce the members of our Expert Board. Today we introduce you to PD Dr. med. Robert Hoepner, Senior Physician in Neurology, Head of Neuroimmunological Consultation and Neuroimmunological Study Outpatient Clinic, Inselspital Bern.

Why are you involved in Altea's Expert Board?  

Long COVID isn't only a medical problem, but it also brings economic and socio-medical aspects to light. Altea’s work is very valuable in this context. In particular, its purpose is to help raise awareness, provide support, and coordinate the diverse agendas and interests of policymakers, businesses, social systems, medicine, and individuals.  

If action isn’t taken early and sensibly, there will be major problems in the future due to the SARS-CoV2 infections that are continuing to spread. As a member of the Expert Board, I would like to make my contribution.  

Altea helps bring different stakeholders to the table to work together for the good of those affected.  

How does the Expert Board work?  

In order to ensure the quality of the content of the information on Altea, we work with experts from various fields. They are available to us for specific queries, they write and review our Vademecum (guides), and they accompany the development of Altea. They can also take part in the discussions on our Forum. The members of the expert board volunteer at Altea. We thank them very much! 

What is your professional relationship to Long COVID?  

As a neurologist, I deal with the nervous system on a daily basis, especially with patients suffering from fatigue. This is a major problem with Long COVID, similar to autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.  

Long COVID is also thought to cause certain changes to the immune system. The outpatient clinic at Inselspital specializes in post-viral fatigue syndromes. While these already existed before Covid, we have seen a massive increase in the number of people affected. 

What is your experience with Long COVID so far?  

At our Long COVID clinic at Inselspital, we receive between three and ten referrals per day and have already seen more than 300 patients. We apply an interdisciplinary approach, with broad additional diagnostics according to individual needs. And by that, I mean investigating what is causing the fatigue symptoms. Factors or pre-existing conditions such as depression, sleep disorders or insomnia, for example, have a negative effect on fatigue. These clarifications can be used to manage further treatment of the condition.  

An individual consultation at the Long COVID clinic lasts between 30 and 90 minutes, depending on whether it is an initial or follow-up session. We usually monitor Long COVID patients for about a year and see them for two to three consultations. This also depends on when someone comes in for their initial consultation. The earlier the Covid diagnosis is established – i.e., three months after initial infection, presumably – the better.  

"Long COVID is increasingly being recognized by industry as a research-relevant field."  

How do you see the future with regards to Long COVID?  

An online survey has shown that, after twelve months, more than 60% of those affected are symptom-free again. So, that gives us confidence that fatigue will not become chronic in a lot of cases. 

At a therapeutic level, we should begin to conduct studies over multiple stages to develop treatments targeted to Long COVID. Here, I consider it essential that we take advantage of the opportunity to conduct multicenter research – that is, cooperation between several major clinics. This will hopefully give us some insights beyond the Coronavirus. It’s also important to me to mention that Switzerland, as a research location, should not be neglected and should be involved in international studies.  

Momentum is currently good in several countries, as industries are increasingly recognizing Long COVID as a research-relevant field. Therefore, corresponding research will certainly take place in the future.  

What are you enthusiastic about as a private person? 

It’s not surprising – but anything medical is pretty inspiring to me; it’s kind of my hobby. Other than that, I love spending time with my kids and family at different playgrounds.  

Robert Hoepner is a neurologist and leads Neuroimmunological Consultations and the Neuroimmunological Study Outpatient Clinic at the Inselspital in Bern. He is particularly involved in autoimmune disorders affecting the nervous system.  

How does the Expert Board work?
Exchange on Long COVID in the Altea Forum