New research led by an ICU specialist working at the epicentre of the Victorian outbreak will examine how Australia’s most seriously-ill COVID-19 cases recover from the virus long-term.
While most patients fully recover, there is concern over the growing number of patients whose serious health symptoms persist long after they have been discharged from hospital.
Carol Hodgson, a Monash University professor and ICU physiotherapist at Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital, hopes the new study will help Australia prepare to meet the needs of these survivors.
“We know that Australia has some of the highest survival rates of COVID-19 so far, but we know nothing about the morbidity or the long term outcomes of our patients, or the types of interventions they might require down the track,” Prof Hodgson told AAP on Monday.
The study, which partners with the COVID-19 Critical Care Consortium, will conduct phone interviews with recovering ICU patients from 30 hospitals across the country.
The patients’ physical, psychological and cognitive recovery will be measured at three months after they leave hospital, and again at six months.
“It does seem that if they’ve presented with shortness of breath for example, or loss of appetite or loss of smell, those symptoms can continue for quite a period of time after they’ve recovered from the critical illness,” Prof Hodgson said.
The mental health of recovering patients is also a concern.
She says anxiety, depression, and even post-traumatic stress appear to be prevalent among survivors overseas.
“Most COVID patients have gotten sick quite suddenly, and then they’ve been very isolated during the hospital stay. That’s incredibly hard.”
Prof Hodgson is also taking part in a broader international study with the COVID-19 Critical Care Consortium, which will bring patients back to hospital for in-person assessments to monitor their long term recoveries.
“The longer patients stay in intensive care and the longer they’re on mechanical ventilation in particular, the worse their outcomes tend to be.”
“We know that the COVID patients stay on ventilators for longer, and they stay in ICU for longer than our average patient with acute respiratory failure.”
That study will conduct physical exercise and cognitive tests, and will also monitor for organ failure.
She hopes both studies will help families, as well as government, employers and healthcare providers, to prepare for and meet survivors’ needs.
“Long after this latest wave passes, there will be people who are going to need support and we need to start planning for that now.”