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POLAR harnessed for long COVID analysis in general practice

18 January 2023
By Kate McDonald
Image: iStock

Melbourne-based general practice research network Outcome Health will use its POLAR data extraction and analysis tool as part of a new Digital Health Cooperative Research Centre (DHCRC) research project looking at the emergence and management of long COVID in primary care.

The project involves de-identified general practice data from over 700 practices in the catchments of Outcome Health’s four primary health network (PHN) partners in Melbourne and Sydney, which support over three million patients.

The project also involves Macquarie University researchers, who will look to understand how long COVID is presented in general practice and treated by clinicians. The ultimate goal of the research is to develop a set of best practice recommendations surrounding long COVID care in general practice.

Outcome Health’s own data insights research program has provided data on the effects of the pandemic on general practice, including telehealth uptake, medication prescribing, adult mental health and the transmission non-COVID respiratory viruses such as influenza and bronchiolitis in children during the pandemic.

This new project expands on an existing collaboration between the DHCRC, Outcome Health, Macquarie University and the PHNs – Eastern Melbourne, South East Melbourne, Central and Eastern Sydney and South Western Sydney – to address areas of neglect arising from COVID-19.

DHCRC CEO Annette Schmiede said the earlier DHCRC project contributed to a greater understanding of how COVID-19 has affected general practice.

“This new project will look to deepen our knowledge of long COVID,” Ms Schmiede said. “We know very little about long COVID and as such collaborations like this are critical to deepen our understanding of the symptoms and ultimately provide better care to the growing number of Australians that experience long COVID.”

Outcome Health’s director of research Chris Pearce said GPs were on the front line of dealing with long COVID but there was very little understanding or support to help diagnose, let alone treat patients exhibiting with what can be a broad array of symptoms.

“The challenge is that evidence-based research in long COVID is limited, which in turn leads to minimal awareness around the condition,” Associate Professor Pearce said. “By more deeply understanding how GPs identify and classify long COVID we can increase the evidence pool in this area and in turn advance research in long COVID.”

Macquarie University’s Andrew Georgiou, from the Australian Institute of Health Innovation, said the earlier collaboration was very much in the depths of COVID-19 lockdowns and was a ground- breaking initiative to get almost real time insight into the impact of COVID.

“As we move into a period of living with COVID this will mean different things for different people and understanding what the impacts of long COVID are, and how GPs can treat them, will be critical to the long-term health of many Australians,” Professor Georgiou said.

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