Managing the long term health consequences of COVID-19 in Australia, an issues brief prepared by Deakin Health Economics with colleagues from University of Tasmania and published today by the Australian Healthcare and Hospital Association’s (AHHA) Deeble Institute for Health Policy Research, examines how a value-based health care approach can support Australia’s response to the long term health consequences of COVID-19.

“Australia has avoided the worst of COVID-19 so far, but we are at a critical point. This issues brief steps back to look at what we know about the longer-term health consequences of COVID-19: Long COVID and its other long-term sequelae,” said lead author and Deputy Director of Deakin Health Economics Associate Professor Martin Hensher.

“We still have the chance to prevent the burden of these post-COVID diseases in Australia. But we also need to prepare for them, and consider how they might offer opportunities to tackle long-standing problems of poor care coordination and integration that have long plagued the Australian healthcare system.”

The paper states that deferral of care, workforce burnout and Long COVID are just some of the long term consequences that present significant challenges for the health system and recommends establishing a national post-COVID Centre of Excellence to lead research and modelling on the impact of Long COVID in different population groups and to develop clinical guidelines that reflect evolving evidence on the long-term management of patients. 

AHHA CEO Adjunct Professor Alison Verhoeven said Australia had succeeded in limiting and largely controlling the spread of COVID-19 and must now shift its focus to responding to the long-term health consequences of the virus. 

“An outcomes-focused, value-based health care approach that reflects contemporary governance and funding arrangements, and that can achieve effective management of Long COVID, provides a useful template for a national strategy for managing the long-term sequelae of COVID-19,” she said, adding that although estimated case numbers in Australia of Long COVID are low, the international experience suggests that integrated, well-coordinated multidisciplinary care with patients at the centre is required. 

“While the immediate priority must be prevention of COVID-19 outbreaks, public health services are already having to respond to the emerging care needs of patients who may have suffered organ damage and impairment due to COVID-19. Ensuring funding, data, clinical governance and workforce arrangements support an effective response to Long COVID patients will assist in balancing the competing risks of inaction and overdiagnosis,” Adj Prof. Verhoeven said.