Start life support machine early for severe COVID-19 patients, Chinese physicians say

Physicians from China stressed the importance of starting extracorporeal membrane oxygenation early when treating severe cases of COVID-19, during a March 19 webinar sponsored by the American College of Cardiology, MedPage Today reports.

Ning Zhou, MD, PhD, who works at a hospital in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the new coronavirus pandemic, said that critically ill COVID-19 patients will likely develop hypoxemia, or low levels of oxygen in the blood, while on ventilators and will require extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, a life support machine that replaces the function of the heart and lungs.

But extracorporeal membrane oxygenation should be administered early in treatment, not when the patient is dying, Dr. Zhou said.

"Don't wait. You lose the opportunity, especially for those young patients. ECMO [extracorporeal membrane oxygenation] is not for prolonging life for days. It's an opportunity for patients to survive," he said, according to MedPage Today.

Patients older than 70 years and those with irreversible, severe brain injury are less likely to recover with the use of extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, he said.

The physicians all said that older physicians should not be on the front lines of care during the pandemic. In China, physicians older than 60 years are banned from providing care to COVID-19 patients.

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