What is the capacity of the health care system to provide rehabilitation care to people with Long COVID?

A doctor listens to the heartbeat of child in abdomen of pregnant woman

COVID-19 can result in physical and mental health limitations which often linger long after the acute infection has passed. For those admitted to hospital, there is an increased risk of signs and symptoms associated with hospital stays, such as critical illness polyneuropathy, deconditioning, cognitive deficits, and loss of muscle mass. Those who survive the initial infection can have ongoing symptoms resulting in difficulties returning to work and other activities of daily living including; fatigue, cognitive impairments, anxiety and depression, pain and cardiac arrhythmia, with an increased risk of chronic respiratory, liver or metabolic disease. Patient groups have termed this condition ‘Long COVID’ and medical classification systems use the term ’Post-COVID-19 Syndrome’.

“Long COVID rehabilitation programs in Canada are limited and there is currently little understanding of patients’ rehabilitation needs,” says Dr. Pat Camp, a clinician scientist at St Paul’s Hospital and an Associate Professor in the University of British Columbia’s Department of Physical Therapy.

Dr. Camp is leading a study to investigate the current capacity for rehabilitation, and articulate the need for specific rehabilitation components among patients with post-acute Long COVID. This will be done, in part, via a retrospective analysis of adults who tested positive for COVID-19, with available test results, between January 1, 2020 and December 31, 2022. PopData will link 13 data sets from the BC Ministry of Health for the project.

The study seeks to estimate the prevalence of Long COVID, and describe the demographic characteristics (including age, sex, comorbid conditions, proximity to rehabilitation services etc.) of adults with Long COVID who may need rehabilitation.

“We also will determine the type(s) of rehabilitation which may be required and the likely intensity,” says Dr. Camp. “Is it in inpatient or outpatient? What is the likely length of service and can it be delivered to a group or does it need to be one-to-one?”

Finally, the team will characterize the capacity of the BC rehabilitation system to meet the estimated demand by identifying and mapping available rehabilitation facilities, programs and resources.

Knowledge translation efforts using social media, public forums, reports, and publications, will focus on three main audiences; patients, clinics, health policymakers, and researchers.

The project is funded by the BC Ministry of Health, Providence Research and BC Lung Foundation.