COVID-19 Burdens Follow Patients After Discharge

Richard Mark Kirkner, MDedge News

November 19, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

COVID-19 patients who survive their hospitalization don't leave the disease behind upon discharge, as a significant percentage died within 60 days of discharge, with an ICU admission heightening the risk, according to an observational study of 38 Michigan hospitals. What's more, many of them were burdened with health and emotional challenges ranging from hospital readmission to job loss and financial problems.

"These data confirm that the toll of COVID-19 extends well beyond hospitalization, a finding consistent with long-term sequelae from sepsis and other severe respiratory viral illnesses," wrote lead author Vineet Chopra, MBBS, of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and colleagues (Ann Intern Med. 2020 Nov 11: doi: 10.7326/M20-5661)

The researchers found that 29.2% of all patients hospitalized for COVID-19 from March 16 to July 1 died. The observational cohort study included 1,648 COVID-19 patients hospitalized at 38 Michigan hospitals participating in a statewide collaborative.

The bulk of those deaths occurred during hospitalization: 24.2% of patients (n = 398). Of the 1,250 patients discharged, 78% (n = 975) went home and 12.6% (n = 158) went to a skilled nursing facility, with the remainder unaccounted for. Within 60 days of discharge, 6.7% (n = 84) of hospitalized survivors had died and 15.2% (n = 189) were readmitted. The researchers gathered 60-day postdischarge data via a telephone survey, contacting 41.8% (n = 488) of discharged patients.

Outcomes were even worse for discharged patients who spent time in the ICU. The death rate among this group was 10.4% (17 of 165) after discharge. That resulted in an overall study death rate of 63.5% (n = 257) for the 405 patients who were in the ICU.

While the study data were in the first wave of the novel coronavirus, the findings have relevance today, said Mary Jo Farmer, MD, FCCP, directory of pulmonary hypertension services at Baystate Health in Springfield, Mass.

"This is the best information we have to date," she said. "We have to continue to have an open mind and expect that this information may change as the virus possibly mutates as it spreads, and we should continue doing these types of outcomes studies at 90 days, 120 days, etc."

The median age of study patients was 62, with a range of 50-72. The three leading comorbidities among discharged patients were hypertension (n = 800, 64%), diabetes (34.9%, n = 436), and cardiovascular disease (24.1%, n = 301).

Poor postdischarge outcomes weren't limited to mortality and readmission. Almost 19% (n = 92) reported new or worsening cardiopulmonary symptoms such as cough and dyspnea, 13.3% had a persistent loss of taste or smell, and 12% (n = 58) reported more difficulty with daily living tasks.

The after-effects were not only physical. Nearly half of discharged patients (48.7%, n = 238) reported emotional effects and almost 6% (n = 28) sought mental health care. Among the 40% (n = 195) employed before they were hospitalized, 36% (n = 78) couldn't return to work because of health issues or layoffs. Sixty percent (n = 117) of the pre-employed discharged patients did return to work, but 25% (n = 30) did so with reduced hours or modified job duties because of health problems.

Financial problems were also a burden. More than a third, 36.7% (n = 179), reported some financial impact from their hospitalization. About 10% (n = 47) said they used most or all of their savings, and 7% (n = 35) said they resorted to rationing necessities such as food or medications.

The researchers noted that one in five patients had no primary care follow-up at 2 months post discharge. "Collectively, these findings suggest that better models to support COVID-19 survivors are necessary," said Chopra and colleagues.

The postdischarge course for patients involves two humps, said Sachin Gupta, MD, FCCP a pulmonary and critical care specialist at Alameda Health System in Oakland, Calif.: Getting over the hospitalization itself and the recovery phase. "As you look at the median age of the survivors, elderly patients who survive a hospital stay are still going to have a period of recovery, and like any viral illness that leads to someone being hospitalized, when you have an elderly patient with comorbidities, not all of them can make it over that final hump."

He echoed the study authors' call for better postdischarge support for COVID-19 patients. "There's typically, although not at every hospital, a one-size-fits-all discharge planning process," Gupta said. "For older patients, particularly with comorbid conditions, close follow-up after discharge is important."

Farmer noted that one challenge in discharge support may be a matter of personnel. "The providers of this care might be fearful of patients who have had COVID-19 – Do the patients remain contagious? What if symptoms of COVID-19 return such as dry cough, fever? – and of contracting the disease themselves," she said.

The findings regarding the emotional status of discharged patients should factor into discharge planning, she added. "Providers of posthospital care need to be educated in the emotional impact of this disease (e.g., the patients may feel ostracized or that no one wants to be around them) to assist in their recovery."

Chopra and Farmer have no financial relationships to disclose. Gupta is an employee and shareholder of Genentech.

SOURCE: Chopra V et al. Ann Intern Med. 2020 Nov 11. doi: 10.7326/M20-5661.

This article originally appeared in Chest Physician.


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