There are more than 240,000 Veterans that have tested positive for COVID-19, and that number is growing. The long-term effects of virus are still being understood, but one in ten people who have contracted it may suffer from what has become known as “Long COVID,” which could threaten to become the next public health emergency that will challenge the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) system.
To this end, the VHA Innovation Ecosystem (VHA IE) and the Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) are launching an extensive, multi-faceted approach to understanding and treating Long COVID.
And they need your help.
Long COVID is reported by a substantial proportion of individuals who contracted mild to severe COVID-19. They experience persistent, multi-system symptoms for four weeks or more post-infection. Symptoms can range from mild to debilitating, with a high percentage of patients reporting worse health-related quality of life over time. There is an urgent need to provide evidence- and patient-informed clinical care to Veterans for this complex, heterogenous condition. That’s where VHA IE and OCTO come in.
Through this new joint effort, VHA IE and OCTO are advancing work to surface best practices, working alongside VA staff, external health care innovators and Veterans themselves. This effort includes multiple approaches, including a series of interviews with Veterans, caregivers,and staff to better understand the Long COVID experience and how VA can support Veterans suffering from it. The most important factor in guiding the future is understanding the needs of the Veterans themselves, and these interviews will be integral to that understanding, leading to human-centered care and other beneficial processes.
The interviews aren’t the only approach to tackling the challenge of Long COVID, however. To get a deeper understanding of the current state of Long COVID care, VA has launched a VHA-wide environmental scan. VA is also developing innovative clinical decision and support tools that will help staff make informed decisions about Veterans’ care. Through collaborations with researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), VA will create prospective and retrospective qualitative and quantitative studies that will guide the health care industry in Long COVID care. As the largest health care network in the country, VHA is building a cross-facility community of practice to share lessons learned and standardize best practices among direct care providers developing or implementing Long COVID care options.
If you would like to learn more about these or other Long COVID efforts, participate in an interview, or join the VHA Long COVID community of practice, please email VHALongCOVID@va.gov.