COVID in the ICU: Old Practices, Increased Benefits?

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The CDC reports that COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in 2020, after heart disease and cancer. In the U.S. alone about 600,000 have died from the disease. Researchers say they've learned lessons and gained valuable information from studying responses in the ICU.

In the first days of the pandemic, critical care specialists nationwide quickly put struggling patients on ventilators to improve their airflow and searched for any available treatment. Eduardo Oliveira, MD, Director of Critical Care AdventHealth Orlando, and colleagues studied data from 1,300 COVID patients admitted to the ICU and focused on the most critical 350 to determine what worked.

"Best practices that we felt really made a difference in patient care were practices related to mechanical ventilation, minimizing harm, providing them with lower volumes of air as we are ventilating them," explained Dr. Oliveira.

Dr. Oliveira also says the practice of proning a patient worked, placing them face down instead of face-up, allowing the lungs to function more efficiently.

"It's not a drug, it's not a specific medication that we are giving that saves lives, it is the process," continued Dr. Oliveira.

Most of the 350 patients in the Central Florida study were on mechanical ventilation. Dr. Oliveira says 70 percent survived, higher than other international studies, which report an average of 50 percent survival.

"I am certain we are going to face similar situations in the future and the learnings from this pandemic will be key on how we treat them effectively from day one," said Dr. Oliveira.

Dr. Oliveira says having adequate well-trained staff also made a positive difference in outcomes. For example, he says it takes up to eight healthcare providers to put one patient safely in a prone position. The study was just published in the science and medicine research journal, PLOS One.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Executive Producer; Jenna Ehrlich, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Videographer and Editor.

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