Long COVID Treatment: The Role of Nurse Practitioners

View all blog posts under Articles | View all blog posts under Master of Science in Nursing

A patient with respiratory problems coughs while being examined by a nurse practitioner in a medical office.The consequences of COVID-19 on the health care system have been far-reaching, negatively impacting both patient health and the mental health and resiliency of the health care workforce. More than 40% of U.S. adults have contracted COVID-19 at some point, according to a June 2022 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of those, nearly 20% (roughly 1 in 13 adults) are still experiencing symptoms of long COVID.

Long COVID — with its variable duration and symptoms ranging from fatigue, brain fog, and muscle or joint pain to shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and mood changes — has further complicated the nation’s efforts to combat the virus. With no standardized, generally accepted long COVID treatment, both patients and health care professionals face disruptions in care delivery.

As the largest group of advanced practice nurses — with more than 70% delivering primary care, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) — nurse practitioners are well positioned to address this growing concern. Their advanced education and experience also prepares them to take on leadership roles to address industrywide challenges concerning long COVID and the health care system in general.

Patients with Long COVID: Understanding Its Impact

“Long COVID” is the term used to describe a range of symptoms that can linger for months in some patients who have had an acute case of COVID-19. These symptoms can range from mild fatigue and shortness of breath to more severe conditions, such as heart inflammation, pulmonary fibrosis, and neurological damage. Some patients with long COVID have reported chest pain, headaches, and difficulty concentrating for weeks or even months after their initial diagnosis.

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), up to 30% of patients may experience long COVID symptoms after recovering from a previous bout of COVID-19, regardless of whether the patient was very sick or not. Data indicates that long COVID affects people aged 50-59 much more than those over 80, and generally affects women more than men, the CDC reports.

The reasons that some people experience long COVID aren’t clear, but some experts believe that the cause may be underlying health conditions or genetic predispositions that make some individuals more susceptible to the long-term effects of the virus.

A study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests that inflammation caused by the virus leads to lasting damage in some patients with long COVID; another study indicates that the virus may trigger an autoimmune response in some individuals.

Some experts believe that treating the underlying conditions contributing to long COVID can help alleviate its symptoms. Additionally, a study published by the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL) suggests that antihistamines may also help relieve long-term COVID symptoms.

What Is the Role of a Nurse Practitioner in Treating Long COVID?

At this time, no specific, formalized treatment for long COVID exists. However, as primary care providers on the frontlines of the ongoing battle against the virus, nurse practitioners can play a critical role in helping health care facilities provide optimal care to patients with long COVID.

What is the role of a nurse practitioner in regard to long COVID? Nurse practitioners are highly trained health care professionals who are qualified to assess, diagnose, and treat patients, especially regarding long-term health issues. Nurse practitioners with full practice authority and prescriptive authority are particularly empowered to contribute to providing comprehensive care for individuals with long COVID.

In addition to providing direct patient care, nurse practitioners can apply their research skills to help health care professionals better understand the long-term effects of COVID-19 and mentor nursing staff in providing safe and effective care. They can identify trends in the virus’s progression through evidence-based research and help develop protocols for treating long COVID.

Nurse practitioners can also use technology-driven concepts, such as telehealth, to assess and diagnose patients remotely, which is especially beneficial as it allows health care providers to treat sick patients without the risk of exposing them to other patients or staff.

Challenges to Treating Long COVID

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), up to 23 million Americans may be affected by long COVID.

The complex and currently ambiguous nature of long COVID may impact patient treatment strategies. Nurse practitioners’ backgrounds and knowledge allow them to assess, diagnose, and treat patients with long-term chronic conditions and episodic acute challenges such as COVID-19. Still, only 44% of states grant nurse practitioners full practice authority.

In some states, laws reduce nurse practitioners’ ability in nursing practice, requiring them to work with physicians through a collaboration agreement. However, nurse practitioners with reduced practice authority often struggle to locate physicians to provide supervision, and the cost of setting up and maintaining collaboration agreements is too expensive for them, according to a report published in the Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine (JAMDA).

Another classification for nurse practitioners is restricted access, which means that nurse practitioners must be supervised by another provider, such as a physician, in certain aspects of patient care.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, governors of the 21 states that either reduce or restrict nurse practitioner practice issued executive orders to loosen some of these barriers and provide nurse practitioners with greater autonomy, according to a Nursing Outlook report. However, only five states temporarily suspended the collaboration requirements, while 16 states waived some practice requirements. Seven states took no action.

No proof of adverse outcomes came to bear after the removal of nurse practitioner barriers, according to the JAMDA report. On the contrary, nurse practitioners have made positive impacts — including identifying and treating patients in their own homes; minimizing ill effects on those affected and ensuring appropriate end-of-life care; connecting existing care systems; setting up pathways for care between acute care facilities; designing resources like reference sheets for specialists; and organizing virtual consultations with specialists.

These findings indicate that nurse practitioners’ ability to assess, diagnose, and treat patients plays a pivotal role in addressing the challenges of treating long COVID.

Misinformation regarding long COVID and COVID-19, in general, can also potentially hamper a health care facility’s ability to provide optimal patient care. Nurse practitioners can apply their expertise to provide public health education and guidance to patients and communities, informing them about what’s known about the condition and helping build care strategies based on this information.

Make an Important Impact on COVID Care

Nurse practitioners are well-equipped to respond to the complex challenges posed by COVID-19. They begin as registered nurses and prepare for advanced practice nursing through experience and education, providing the clinical knowledge and leadership skills to impact long COVID care.

Graduate-level programs for nurse practitioners emphasize patient-centered care, from the bedside to the exam room and, increasingly, telehealth. With a focus on holistic health care, nurse practitioners go beyond merely reporting symptoms, applying their knowledge of advanced nursing care to assess and treat conditions and uncover opportunities for educating patients about self-care.

Regis College’s online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program helps prepare nurses to become leaders in the healthcare field. Learn how our MSN program can help nurses looking to advance in their careers pursue their professional goals while helping address some of the most important health care challenges of today.

Recommended Readings

The Difference Between MSN and DNP Degrees

MSN vs. RN: Preparing for a Career in Nursing

MSN Degree Meaning and Overview


Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, “AHRQ PSNet Annual Perspective: Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Patient Safety”

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Nurse Practitioners in Primary Care

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, State Practice Environment

American Medical Association, “What Doctors Wish Patients Knew About Long COVID”

American Organization for Nursing Leadership, “Case Study Suggests Antihistamines Provide Relief for Long COVID-19”

ASPR TRACIE, COVID-19 Healthcare Delivery Impacts

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Nearly One in Five American Adults Who Have Had COVID-19 Still Have ‘Long COVID’”

Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, “The Future Includes Nurse Practitioner Models of Care in the Long-Term Care Sector”

Mayo Clinic, COVID-19: Long-Term Effects

McKinsey & Company, “Assessing the Lingering Impact of COVID-19 on the Nursing Workforce”

National Institutes of Health, “Autoimmune Response Found in Many with COVID-19”

National Institutes of Health, “Long COVID Symptoms Linked to Inflammation”

Nursing in Practice, “Primary Care Nursing’s ‘Huge Role’ in Long COVID”

Nursing Outlook, “Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on APRN Practice: Results From a National Survey”

Time, “You Could Have Long COVID and Not Even Know It”

U.S. Government Accountability Office, Science & Tech Spotlight: Long COVID