Ventilators could be safely shared by two COVID-19 patients for up to two days, a small US study found, validating an experimental method followed by hospitals struggling to handle the onslaught of lung failure cases with limited equipment.
At the peak of the coronavirus outbreak, the New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center in Manhattan began having selected pairs of surgery patients with healthy lungs share a ventilator.
This approach freed up as many machines as possible for COVID-19 patients, but some medical experts criticized it, saying it could worsen outcomes.
The few existing studies of so-called ventilator-splitting did not test it in patients with the type of lung injuries seen with COVID-19.
However, a new study involving six critically ill COVID-19 patients at the Manhattan hospital, who were paired up based on similarities in breathing needs, found ventilator sharing was a viable option for up to two days.
During acute shortages, ventilator sharing is a reasonable stopgap to support patients for short periods in centers with appropriate expertise, the researchers wrote in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine on Tuesday.
“Ventilator sharing does not obviate the need for more ventilators,” Dr. Jeremy Beitler of the New York-Presbyterian Hospital and his team wrote. At most, it could buy some time while relocating ventilators to hospitals or transferring patients to hospitals with the life-saving machines.
“The safety and utility of prolonged ventilator sharing, when ventilators or patients cannot be relocated, is unknown,” the researchers said.
They recommend restricting ventilator sharing to expert centers that could properly identify suitable patients and manage their care.
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