Dr. Orestis Panagiotou is a physician-scientist with experience in evidence-based medicine, clinical epidemiology, and research methodology. He is an assistant professor of health services, policy, and practice at Brown University in Providence. He talked to Globe Rhode Island about what inspired his current research into long COVID. (This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)
Back in medical school in Greece, I kept asking questions that had no answers. How did the clinical trials I read about apply to older populations? What about those with chronic illnesses?
I left my medical practice to follow this curiosity. After completing my Ph.D. in the United States as an epidemiologist in 2013, I was eager to research public health crises.
When the pandemic started, I repurposed my research portfolio and skills into studying long COVID. I worked with nursing home residents, acute care patients, and older populations for the past five years, and these groups were disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
My team and I have been challenged by the widespread and rapidly changing condition of the virus. So many lives have been affected by COVID; long COVID research will help us identify what symptoms persist over time and then how to help these patients and their healthcare providers make better decisions about care.
There are many conditions in medicine that have longer-term consequences. For example, HIV is another virus that causes chronic issues like cardiovascular disease. With long COVID, the recovery is not like breaking a leg and then wearing a cast for a few weeks. It is an ongoing process. Patients are likely to continue experiencing long-term complications. For those affected by COVID, Brown has established a center to monitor patients after the acute phase of the disease and potential long COVID effects.
As a community member, I wanted to help patients and healthcare providers make better decisions about treatment. What I research informs how employers and health insurances like Medicare can support the population. I know several clinicians who are at the front lines, experiencing long COVID, as well as physicians. We are engaged in a living research project with many answers to uncover.