New CADTH Review Aims to Help Health Systems Understand and Manage the Long-Term Impact of Post–COVID-19 Condition

With growing concern globally about the impact of post–COVID-19 condition (also known as “long COVID”) and its emergence as a new chronic condition, scientists and clinicians from around the world are working together to help us better understand it.

In anticipation of the evolving needs of Canadian patients, policy-makers, and clinicians, CADTH is bringing stakeholders together and undertaking a range of work to inform practice and policy with evidence about how we identify, treat, and manage post–COVID-19 condition.

What Do We Know So Far About Post – COVID-19 Condition?

CADTH’s first report in this area is a Horizon Scan (September 2021) summarizing what we know to date about the condition, emerging research questions that are being addressed, and the implications for health systems.

Currently, we know that symptoms can affect multiple organ systems, may change over time, and can vary depending on an individual’s age and sex, among other factors. There are currently no known unique symptoms and no tests available to diagnose post–COVID-19 condition. Current treatment recommendations focus on multi-disciplinary care and personalized treatment to address the range of symptoms that are unique to each person. There is limited evidence on the clinical effectiveness or cost-effectiveness of therapies for the condition, but data are emerging quickly from ongoing clinical trials.

The Horizon Scan also explores in detail the issues that health systems must grapple with to effectively deliver care, like increased demand for services, accessibility of treatment, equity in access to health care services and health outcomes, and patients’ perspectives on how the condition affects quality of life and daily activities.

Expert Perspectives on the Implications of Post – COVID-19 Condition

To broadly share the latest research, CADTH hosted a webinar in October with leading experts, including Dr. Jesse Greiner from Providence Health Care and Dr. Angela Cheung, the co-lead of CANCOV (Canadian COVID-19 Prospective Cohort Study). The panel provided an update on 6 new specialized clinics for the condition, discussed actions needed to ensure quality care for Canadians, and took questions from the audience.

“We need to integrate clinical care with research and collaboration helps accelerate science,” said Dr. Emilia Liana Falcone from the Montreal Clinical Research Institute, who also spoke during the webinar. “CADTH can help foster networking.”

Bridging the Evidence Gap

Across Canada decision-makers who are planning how to best deliver care to patients diagnosed with post–COVID-19 condition face a host of unknowns. They range from the understanding risk factors for developing the condition and how many people could be affected to gaps in evidence about the effectiveness of interventions and the overall impact of post–COVID-19 condition on people and health systems.

With all these factors in mind, CADTH has selected post–COVID-19 condition as the topic of its second Condition-Level Review. Results of a Condition-Level Review are housed in a single online resource that brings together evidence from CADTH and other evidence synthesis organizations to assess and inform the use of health technologies for a condition in its entirety. Just last year, CADTH completed its first Condition-Level Review of tuberculosis.

The in-depth project is rolling out in 3 phases: information gathering and needs assessment, evidence synthesis, and knowledge mobilization. A Scoping Summary will describe the rationale for the project and, as part of the first phase of information gathering and needs assessment, CADTH has initiated a post-COVID-19 condition Scoping Review to map existing evidence and identify knowledge gaps.

Advancing our knowledge of post–COVID-19 condition will require significant cooperation among all health system stakeholders, and CADTH believes that we have a valuable role to play as both a convenor of stakeholders and a channel to deliver critical information to health care decision-makers. Guided by principles of inclusivity and collaboration, our goal is to leverage our existing networks, connect the groups doing work in this area, identify knowledge gaps, minimize research duplication, and put forward evidence that will help health system leaders effectively plan the delivery of care and services.

Quick Facts About Post-COVID-19 Condition

  • Post-COVID-19 condition is characterized by new or persisting symptoms for more than 12 weeks following an initial COVID-19 infection. People with post-COVID-19 condition can have a wide range of symptoms including fatigue, shortness of breath, muscle aches, and cognitive and mental health issues.
  • According to an article in the BMJ, about 10% of people experience prolonged illness after a COVID-19 infection, and some researchers believe the number of patients with post-COVID-19 condition could be as high as 30%. Some experts have estimated that more than 150,000 Canadians who contracted the COVID-19 virus experience symptoms of post-COVID-19 condition.