MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — A nationwide approach is being used to help coronavirus patients in Mobile. Doctors at USA Health University Hospital say there aren’t many patients on ventilators right now, and they’re doing their best to keep hospitalized coronavirus patients off ventilators. Instead, they’re using a stepwise approach that starts as non-invasive and they say they’re seeing that patients tend to do better.
“Every Sunday night for the last eight or nine weeks, division directors from all around the country at academic hospitals were getting on a Zoom call. So there was 80 to 100 people on a Zoom call every Sunday night and we’re sharing what’s working,” said Dr. Karen A. Fagan, a Pulmonologist with USA Health.
When the coronavirus pandemic started, the thought was the earlier doctors could get patients on a ventilator, the better.
“We thought that would be the best because that’s been our experience with other illnesses that cause severe respiratory failure,” said Dr. Fagan.
But COVID-19 is different, so the recommendation has evolved and many doctors are now trying to keep patients off ventilators. Instead, they start with oxygen, then go to “high-flow” oxygen if they’re not getting a good result.
Dr. Fagan said, “It has a little bit of pressure on it to help the patient be able to breathe a little easier. It’s really delivered though a special machine with a special apparatus still to the patient’s nose, which is good because they can talk and eat and do all of those other things while wearing it.”
The next step if that isn’t working is “non-invasive” ventilation.
“We’ll apply a mask over the nose and mouth of a patient and provide pressure at a little bit higher level than we would get with the other types of oxygen,” Dr. Fagan told Cherish Lombard.
If none of those things work, then patients will be put on a ventilator. And in some cases, patients will have to be put on a ventilator immediately. Dr. Fagan says it all depends on how sick they are when they get to a hospital.
“Sometimes we’ve got patients who arrive very very very critically ill and we need to go ahead and put them on a ventilator right away. That’s thankfully uncommon,” she said.
Dr. Fagen says because ventilators are invasive, being on one can be harmful in itself, but strategies are in place to minimize the damage. One of the most serious and common risks of being on a ventilator is pneumonia. Other risks include blood clots, fluid buildup, and lung and vocal cord damage. Again, when other methods fail, a ventilator may need to be used in order to save a life.