‘U’ experts: Effects of COVID-19 don’t stop until long after a patient leaves the hospital

Monday, November 30, 2020 - 3:20pm

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Design by Kathryn Halverson

 

University of Michigan researchers and health care experts recently published a study on the long-term effects of COVID-19 based on data from various Michigan hospitals. 

The research team, consisting of physicians and a statistician, collected data through interviews with previously hospitalized COVID-19 patients as well as hospital data compiled by medical staff. 

Individuals were surveyed two months after their hospitalization ended. Researchers found that rehospitalization, continuation of COVID-19 symptoms and death were possible physical outcomes for patients within this 60-day time period. 

In addition, the study found that survivors suffered from many emotional and financial drawbacks as a result of their hospitalization. Returning to work and resuming activities were challenges for many of the interviewed patients, either because of health issues or because they had been laid off. The research showed that former patients also experienced mental and financial tolls as a result of their COVID-19 treatment. Approximately one in 10 patients had spent almost all of their funds on treatment, and much more had experienced some sort of economic repercussion due to their health conditions. 

Hallie Prescott, an associate professor at the Medical School and a member of the research team, said the study was established after researchers were told to pause their normal work to collect data on COVID-19 patients. She said the main takeaways from the study were that roughly a third of their patients didn’t survive thirty days after they were discharged. Additionally, about 40% reported they were not back to their normal activities yet. One in 10 reported that they were using up all or nearly all of their savings, according to Prescott. 

When asked to comment on the relevance of the study for University students, she mentioned the “larger impact beyond just hospitalizations and deaths” — such as students who have to take care of their family members. Prescott said she hopes the study will make people take COVID-19 more seriously, even if they aren’t a member of the most vulnerable groups. She said people need stronger support systems to live their lives after the virus.

“I think there are a lot of people who are getting discharged and really going onto struggle and there’s not really like a medical clinic or infrastructure to help those people recover after they left the hospital,” Prescott said.

Megan O’Malley, a statistician on the research team, emphasized the importance of learning about the long-term effects of COVID-19. 

“I think what we have taken away as a whole from this is that there’s still a lot to learn about what happens to these patients after they leave the hospital,” O’Malley said. “Having had a COVID hospitalization still plays a large part in (patients’) financial health, their emotional health, even rehospitalization so I think that’s our biggest takeaway and that we’re still learning what needs to be done in terms of how to deal with follow-up.”

O’Malley noted how people have not focused as much on the long-term impacts on COVID patients’ emotional and financial health.  

“What do you do about patients who are in the hospital for such a long time that they use up all of their savings? The patients who ended up in the ICU for two weeks had pretty severe repercussions on their financial and emotional health and I think that’s not as much talked about,” O’Malley said. “Everybody cares about the mortality rate and if less people are dying, but these long-term effects can really change a person’s life if you use up your whole savings.” 

Public Health senior Emily Guo, co-president of CURIS Public Health Advocacy at the University, said her organization is working to educate members about vulnerabilities related to COVID-19. CURIS, which means “cares” in Latin, is also working with local organizations to increase access to resources that might be helpful to those facing the aftermath of coronavirus treatment. 

“We currently partner with six organizations and we have different committees for each organization,” Guo said. “Washtenaw Health Initiative is one of them, which works with lower-income people who are under-insured. We also work with Washtenaw Alive, which is the suicide prevention coalition at the Washtenaw Health Department … We are spreading awareness of (these organizations) so people can know more about them.” 

O’Malley explained how this research on patient outcomes after 60 days is a significant addition to current studies on COVID-19. 

“I know our other authors, Hallie Prescott and Vineet Chopra, have a lot of communication with physicians across the country and there was a lot of interest in our 60-day outcomes,” she said. “Everyone is trying to figure it out together and the more information the better.” 

Daily Contributors Hailey Espinosa and Sarah Stolar can be reached at haileyse@umich.edu and sstolar@umich.edu


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