Researching recovery

Why does one patient recover swiftly and completely from an illness or injury whilst another individual may find themselves on a recovery pathway which lasts for months or even years? Is it down to genetics or lifestyle, pre-existing conditions or personal approach?

It’s a question which health practitioners encounter in their daily lives and it’s a question which probably has no one single answer. It’s also one which enables health practitioners to use their skills and knowledge to put into place appropriate recovery pathways for each individual.

But what happens when practitioners are faced with a new challenge, one which no one has faced before? Yes existing experience comes into play, but there may also be additional factors which require new treatments and new approaches. With this in mind the government has launched an £8.4 million study into the long-term effects of COVID-19. 

The study which is to be led by the NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre aims to assess some 10,000 patients drawn from across the UK using multiple techniques including ‘advanced imaging, data collection and analysis of blood and lung samples’. It is hoped that this will form the basis of a new set of strategies which will support physical and mental well-being both for patients with the virus and those who are on a recovery pathway.

Commenting on the study UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Ottoline Leyser, said: “We have much to learn about the long-term health impacts of COVID-19 and its management in hospital, including the effects of debilitating lung and heart conditions, fatigue, trauma and the mental health and wellbeing of patients.” She went on to say that “for many people survival may be just the start of a long road to recovery” and that “This study will support the development of better care and rehabilitation and, we hope, improve the lives of survivors”

A comprehensive study such as this may well have implications outside of its immediate remit. For example, long-term hospitalisation for whatever reason may well require a discharge plan which includes long-term physical and mental rehabilitation, whilst practices such as respiratory physiotherapy may well benefit from any additional findings which this research may throw up.

This study is important for another reason, helping to build an understanding of the long-term implications for the health service as a whole. Understanding the proportion of Covid patients who are likely to require long-term support, and the nature of that support, will aid in planning health resources including physiotherapy and mental well-being services.

The study may also influence other areas of health service planning including the requirement to create electronic copies of patient records in order to better share those records across multiple disciplines. This may be particularly important for patients with complex rehabilitation needs who may be interacting with a range of health teams on an ongoing basis.

What factors influence recovery? We may never know for certain why two broadly similar patients have wildly differing results but this study might just help to advance our understanding and suggest new pathways to rehabilitation.