JMIR Rehabil Assist Technol. 2022 Aug 29. doi: 10.2196/39883. Online ahead of print.
BACKGROUND: Emerging evidence suggests that worldwide, between 30% and 50% of those who are infected with COVID-19 experience long COVID (LC) symptoms. These symptoms create challenges with return-to-work (RTW) in a high proportion of individuals with LC. To tailor rehabilitation programs to LC sequelae and help improve RTW outcomes, more research on LC rehabilitation program outcomes is needed.
OBJECTIVE: This study describes the characteristics and outcomes of workers who participated in an LC occupational rehabilitation program.
METHODS: A cohort study was conducted. Descriptive variables included demographic and occupational factors as well as patient-reported outcome measures (PROMs, ie, the Fatigue Severity Scale [FSS], the Post-COVID Functional Scale [PCFS], the 36-item Short Form Health Survey [SF-36], the Pain Disability Index [PDI], the pain Visual Analogue Scale [VAS], the 9-item Patient Health Questionnaire [PHQ-9], the 7-item Generalized Anxiety Disorder Questionnaire [GAD-7], and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders Fifth Edition [DSM-5] posttraumatic stress disorder [PTSD] checklist [PCL-5]). The main outcome variable was the RTW status at discharge. Descriptive statistics were calculated. Logistic regression examined predictors of RTW.
RESULTS: The sample consisted of 81 workers. Most workers were female (n=52, 64%) and from health-related occupations (n=43, 53%). Only 43 (53%) individuals returned to work at program discharge, with 40 (93%) of these returning to modified duties. Although there were statistically significant improvements on the pain VAS (mean 11.1, SD 25.6, t31=2.5, P=.02), the PDI (mean 9.4, SD 12.5, t32=4.3, P<.001), the FSS (mean 3.9, SD 8.7, t38=2.8, P=.01), the SF-36 PCS (mean 4.8, SD 8.7, t38=-3.5, P=.001), the PHQ-9 (mean 3.7, SD 4.0, t31=5.2, P<.001), and the GAD-7 (mean 1.8, SD 4.4, t22=1.8, P=.03), there were no significant improvements in the PCFS, the overall mental component score (MCS) of the SF-36, or on the PCL-5. The availability of modified duties (odds ratio [OR] 3.38, 95% CI 1.26-9.10) and shorter time between infection and admission for rehabilitation (OR 0.99, 95% CI 0.99-1.00) predicted RTW even when controlling for age and gender.
CONCLUSIONS: Workers undergoing LC rehabilitation reported significant but modest improvements on a variety of PROMs, but only 43 (53%) returned to work. Outcomes would likely improve with increased availability of modified duties and timelier rehabilitation. Additional research is needed, including larger observational cohorts as well as randomized controlled trials to evaluate the effectiveness of LC rehabilitation.
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