A study released last week shows negative physical and financial long-term impacts after hospitalizations for COVID-19 across the U.S. Early results from the third wave of the pandemic — from fall 2020 through early 2021 — show that 85% of those hospitalized said they were not back to pre-infection lives one month after discharge.
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Theodore “Jack” Iwashyna, co-lead author of the study and professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan said:
“These people have substantially worse problems after hospitalization than clinicians would have expected.”
The ongoing study conducted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institutes’ Prevention and Early Treatment of Lung Injury Network has enrolled 1,300 patients from 44 major medical centers across the U.S. Current early analysis includes 253 of those patients who were hospitalized for COVID-19.
The average patient surveyed was 60 years old and in relatively good health before contracting COVID. The average patient in the study was also only in the hospital for five days, and half were hospitalized for less.
According to the study, 56.5% of patients had new or worsened cardiopulmonary symptoms following their hospitalization and almost half of the patients reported a new disability that prevented daily activities a month after hospitalization.
C. Terri Hough, M.D., co-lead author of the study and professor of medicine and chief at the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Oregon Health and Science University, said:
“This isn’t patients saying, ‘I can’t run quite as far as I used to’. This is them saying, ‘I can’t walk, I can’t cook, I can’t shower’. The effects are devastating. Unfortunately, we saw this even among patients with quite short hospital stays.”
Researchers suggest the lack of follow-up health care services might be a factor of long-term impacts. Of the patients surveyed, 77% who reported a disability had not received any skilled home care following their hospitalization. Iwashyna said:
“Somewhere the ball is being dropped. One month later, these patients need services and are not getting them.”
Patients’ financial security after COVID hospitalization also worsened. The study said 23.2% of patients had used all of their savings, 19.8% either lost their job or had to change their current job, and 37.8% required a loved one to miss work to care for them at home. About a fourth of the surveyed patients (25.4%) rated their financial drain as moderate, severe, or extreme.
The study said there were no demographic differences in the loss of work, but Black and Hispanic patients were much more likely to have had to use most of their savings.
As the study progresses, researchers will continue to look for ways to improve the recovery of COVID patients as they are discharged. Hough said:
“As we continue, we’re excited that this study will link the biology of initial hospitalizations for COVID-19 to long-term patient-centered outcomes, and thereby help us find treatments to decrease the burden of recovery from COVID-19. There are few other national studies that have both details about the hospital stay and are continuing to ask for patient perspectives like we are.”