What are the rates, clinical settings, and factors associated with documentation of care related to COVID-19 at 3 or more months after acute infection?
In this cohort study of 198 601 persons with a positive SARS-CoV-2 test, COVID-19 care was documented in 13.5% of individuals 3 or more months after infection during a mean follow-up of 13.5 months and was documented more commonly in older persons, those with higher comorbidity burden, those with more severe acute COVID-19 presentation, and those who were unvaccinated at the time of infection.
These findings provide guidance for health care systems to develop systematic approaches to the evaluation and management of patients who may be experiencing long COVID.
Some persons infected with SARS-CoV-2 experience symptoms or impairments many months after acute infection.
To determine the rates, clinical setting, and factors associated with documented receipt of COVID-19–related care 3 or more months after acute infection.
Design, Setting, and Participants
This retrospective cohort study used data from the US Department of Veterans Affairs health care system. Participants included persons with a positive SARS-CoV-2 test between February 1, 2020, and April 30, 2021, who were still alive 3 months after infection and did not have evidence of reinfection. Data analysis was performed from February 2020 to December 2021.
Positive SARS-CoV-2 test.
Main Outcomes and Measures
Rates and factors associated with documentation of COVID-19–related International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, Tenth Revision codes (U07.1, Z86.16, U09.9, and J12.82) 3 or more months after acute infection (hereafter, long-COVID care), with follow-up extending to December 31, 2021.
Among 198 601 SARS-CoV-2–positive persons included in the study, the mean (SD) age was 60.4 (17.7) years, 176 942 individuals (89.1%) were male, 133 924 (67.4%) were White, 44 733 (22.5%) were Black, and 19 735 (9.9%) were Hispanic. During a mean (SD) follow-up of 13.5 (3.6) months, long-COVID care was documented in a wide variety of clinics, most commonly primary care and general internal medicine (18 634 of 56 310 encounters [33.1%]), pulmonary (7360 of 56 310 encounters [13.1%]), and geriatrics (5454 of 56 310 encounters [9.7%]). Long-COVID care was documented in 26 745 cohort members (13.5%), with great variability across geographical regions (range, 10.8%-18.1%) and medical centers (range, 3.0%-41.0%). Factors significantly associated with documented long-COVID care included older age, Black or American Indian/Alaska Native race, Hispanic ethnicity, geographical region, high Charlson Comorbidity Index score, having documented symptoms at the time of acute infection (adjusted odds ratio [AOR], 1.71; 95% CI, 1.65-1.78) and requiring hospitalization (AOR, 2.60; 95% CI, 2.51-2.69) or mechanical ventilation (AOR, 2.46; 95% CI, 2.26-2.69). Patients who were fully vaccinated at the time of infection were less likely to receive long-COVID care (AOR, 0.78; 95% CI, 0.68-0.90).
Conclusions and Relevance
Long-COVID care was documented in a variety of clinical settings, with great variability across regions and medical centers and was documented more commonly in older persons, those with higher comorbidity burden, those with more severe acute COVID-19 presentation and those who were unvaccinated at the time of infection. These findings provide support and guidance for health care systems to develop systematic approaches to the evaluation and management of patients who may be experiencing long COVID.