Doctor on telehealth visit with patient

Healthcare usage rises during the six months following a bout with acute COVID-19, investigators have found. Healthcare resource allocation should be planned accordingly, they say.

In a cohort study, having a positive SARS-CoV-2 test result was linked to an additional 213 healthcare visits per 1,000 patients in the six months after recovery from the acute stage of illness. That amounts to a volume of more than 27,000 visits by about 128,000 patients in that time period, or about a 4% increase. This was mainly for virtual visits and emergency department visits, reported Lei Qian, PhD, of Kaiser Permanente Southern California, Pasadena, CA.

Qian and colleagues examined data from patients of all ages from eight large integrated healthcare systems across the United States. Participants had completed a SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic test between March 1 and Nov. 1, 2020. The investigation matched patients on age, sex, race and ethnicity, site and date of SARS-CoV-2 test, and followed patients for six months.

Eighteen persistent COVID-19-related conditions drove the excess care visits, Qian and colleagues found. 

Other than COVID-19 itself and common infectious disease symptoms such as chest pain, cough and fatigue, the highest increases in utilization were tied to alopecia (hair loss), bronchitis, pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis, and dyspnea (shortness of breath).

The burden of post-COVID-19 conditions tracks with that found in other studies. One review of studies, for example, revealed that approximately 70% of patients report at least one lingering COVID-19 symptom, with some for up to six months, the researchers reported.

The review results signal a potential for ongoing strain on healthcare organizations, particularly considering that routine care has been deferred since the pandemic’s start, according to the researchers.

“As healthcare systems evolve to maintain high-quality clinical care during a dynamic and ongoing global pandemic, these data provide valuable evidence to inform long-term strategic resource allocation for patients previously infected with SARS-CoV-2,” they concluded.

Full findings were published in JAMA Network Open