Long COVID lessons from a study of wounded healers

As the worldwide battle with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) continues, some of the most exhausted and drained soldiers on the frontline are healthcare workers. Through rendering care to increasingly high volumes of patients infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) – the agent that causes COVID-19 – they also face a high risk of infection.

As recent studies have shown, patients with COVID-19 may still experience persistent symptoms even after recovering from the illness. Young and previously healthy people also experience ongoing symptoms that show signs of organ damage after months from being diagnosed with COVID-19.

A team of researchers at the University of Oxford have explored healthcare workers' lived experiences with 'long COVID' from two perspectives, as healthcare workers, and as patients.

The team has found that many healthcare workers experienced a lack of compassion during interactions with the healthcare system. They also felt frustrated, the study finds, by the challenges they have experienced in accessing appropriate services to help their recovery.

The study, which appeared on the preprint server medRxiv*, highlights healthcare workers' experiences of long COVID or persistent symptoms even after recovering from the illness.

The study

COVID-19 is a condition that results from infection with the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. This virus is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China, where cases of COVID-19 first emerged in December 2019. So far, more information through intensive scientific investigation into the virus and its effects on the body have emerged.

The research group consisted of 114 participants who contributed their experiences through online focus groups, symptoms diaries or statements and individual narrative interviews between May and September 2020.

The narrative interviews were used to explore the lived experiences of 43 healthcare professionals with long COVID. These individuals view the healthcare system from two perspectives – as a patient and a healthcare worker.

What the study found

One of the study's notable findings is that participants reported persistent and atypical symptoms that did not fit in an expected pattern based on their knowledge about the illness. They emphasized that further research is needed to determine ways to mitigate their symptoms.

The patients also asked other sufferers of the condition, online communities and professional contacts to make sense of their experience. In terms of health care professionals, they also have the advantage of using colleagues and connections to navigate the system and access specialist reviews.

Further, the patients also revealed that long COVID social media support groups were beneficial, which offered ways to share health-related information about the illness.

The participants reiterated their strong work ethic and enthusiasm for teamwork. They feared colleagues would see them as "shirkers."

"There was also much anger and frustration, particularly around accessing care or responses they had received from an unkind, uncompassionate 'system.' This was particularly salient when experienced from 'the other side' as a patient," the researchers write in the study.

The study highlights the uncertainty experienced by patients and healthcare professionals around a novel condition, aggravated by an absence of guidelines or care pathways.

"This study of healthcare professionals with long COVID provides further evidence of approaches to minimize and live with the great uncertainty surrounding the condition, capitalizing on their dual status as professionals and patients to support quality standards and suggest improvements for long Covid services within the NHS," the researchers concluded.

Gaining a better understanding of the impacts of persistent symptoms in survivors can help the government provide quality rehabilitative services.

Long COVID specialist clinics

Meanwhile, the NHS plans to roll out a network of more than 40 long COVID specialist clinics in the next few weeks. This way, they can help thousands of patients suffering from the debilitating effects of COVID-19 months after infection.

Healthcare workers such as doctors, nurses, and therapists will operate the clinics to offer survivors physical and psychological assessments.

Up to date, there are approximately 60,000 people in the U.K. who suffers from long COVID, which causes brain fog, fatigue, pain, and breathlessness.

*Important Notice

medRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or treated as established information.

Journal reference:
Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Written by

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Angela is a nurse by profession and a writer by heart. She graduated with honors (Cum Laude) for her Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of Baguio, Philippines. She is currently completing her Master's Degree where she specialized in Maternal and Child Nursing and worked as a clinical instructor and educator in the School of Nursing at the University of Baguio.


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