Second Opinion: Is Healthcare Equipped To Manage Long COVID?

2021-10-07 |  Shrinivas Anikhindi

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In this month’s Second Opinion, we explore some exciting news that has come out of the United States, the effects of chronic conditions such as Long COVID on our healthcare systems, and the implications for the future of the industry.

The short end of long diseases

This month, researchers in Arkansas, United States, identified an antibody which may be crucial to understanding the mechanism of ‘Long COVID’ – as has been dubbed the collection of symptoms (fatigue, pain, loss of taste and smell) experienced by some COVID patients long after their recovery from the disease.

Awareness of this phenomenon has been growing as cases have risen around the world, a scary reminder that the physiological impacts of COVID may not end with the infection itself.

The potential for a cure or targeted treatment is obviously fantastic news, but we still have to think about how chronic conditions such as Long COVID can cripple our healthcare systems. 

Current methods of care are unsustainable

The treatment of chronic diseases differs hugely from standard care. Instead of a progressing series of appointments, diagnoses and procedures, chronic treatment requires regular check-ins, medication and management for extremely long periods of time. As life expectancies shoot up, so do the prevalence of chronic diseases, and the burden on healthcare increases exponentially.

To make it worse, traditional healthcare structures are built around delivering high-tech, low-frequency levels of care in central specialised centres. Chronic conditions, meanwhile, require medium-tech, high-frequency care delivered through decentralised locations. This reduces travel time for patients and spreads the load of patient care across a network of treating clinics.

Note: If you want to read more about decentralised care, read the July edition of Second Opinion here.

The changing role of industry

As healthcare systems shift their resources towards prioritising prevention-focussed changes to care pathways, the whole industry will face pressure to react accordingly.

Over the last ten years, we’ve seen pharma companies move into a role of ‘treating patients’ instead of ‘treating diseases’. With this change comes increased investment into diagnostics, patient services and pathway-wide interventions.

We’re extremely excited for this shift, as it creates an opportunity for pharma to contribute to the delivery of care within healthcare systems, and to gain access to new revenue streams – through data-driven reimbursement agreements, or reimbursed service offerings. There’s so much space to define new opportunities, and for two great industries to work and grow together.

Further Reading: If you want to hear more about the changing role of the industry, and how you can get a head-start on it, read this piece by Magnus Franzen.

Meanwhile another article talks about how a third of adults around the world are estimated to have multiple chronic diseases, and that chronic disease regularly affects more than 50% of adults in developed countries.

That means that most of us reading this article can expect to develop at least one chronic condition if we haven’t already. As such, the ability of healthcare to meet our collective needs has likely never felt more personally relevant.

What else we've been reading

A life lived well can be a life saved

Social Determinants of Health, or SDoH, are swiftly becoming a core consideration in the running of healthcare systems. They refer to the myriad factors of patients’ lives – their occupation, education, birthplace, habits, culture, etc. – and have increasingly been recognised by health system researchers as key drivers of patient outcomes.

This article by ZS Associates takes a deep dive into what SDoH are, as well as the surprisingly significant effect they can have – citing that between 60-80% of health outcomes can be out of the control of a direct health provider (e.g., a hospital), and instead down to these wider determinants.

To describe these drivers as previously unrecognised would be unfair – after all, it’s old news that a patient’s background and history can influence their health. The degree to which these determinants play their part, however, should be a big eye-opener for anyone in the life sciences and healthcare industries.

Furthermore, both industries should be actively investing in understanding what these drivers are – to look at how they are relevant to different therapy areas, and how delivered interventions can meet the varied needs of their patients. Ultimately, to ensure they maximise delivered health outcomes.

Is healthcare the key to European prosperity?

We came across this extensive report from McKinsey, which breaks down in detail how sustained investment in European healthcare is critical to Europe’s prosperity. This is probably something you could say about most geographies, not to mention this is a life sciences editorial not a politics one – so why does this analysis matter?

The article speaks about the potential upsides of investment in preventative care in terms of mitigating the explosion of health spending - citing a potential 30% reduced health burden through investment in preventative care, and 11 million more lives saved by 2040.

The report is just one part of a massive tapestry of writing on the wall. As the article points out, a number of the key health challenges and risks to healthcare systems’ financial viability won’t be solved exclusively by treatments, but rather by services and wrap-around services that help healthcare systems deliver lasting care for their patients. 

If you have any feedback, or want to hear more about anything mentioned in this article, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!