US physicians turn to overseas peers for COVID-19 advice

As U.S. physicians and hospitals brace for the surge in COVID-19 patients, they are turning to their counterparts in foreign countries already hard hit by the new coronavirus, according to STAT.

Physicians from Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Medicine set up a meeting online via the application Zoom with physicians from the Second Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang University School of Medicine in Hangzhou, capital of China's Zhejiang province. The hospital sent 123 nurses, 42 physicians and six other staff members to oversee an intensive care unit in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of China's coronavirus outbreak.

The Chinese physicians treated 35 patients and prevented COVID-19 from worsening in 28 patients, whose illnesses remained mild. Nine patients died, though most of the ICU patients were older than 60 years, a risk factor for COVID-19.

The Chinese physicians helped their U.S. peers understand what may be coming their way and how they were able to help stem the tide in their ICU.

The Chinese physicians repurposed existing drugs to treat COVID-19 patients, based on scientific evidence as much as possible, including the malaria drug chloroquine, the rheumatoid arthritis drug with the brand name Actemra and tocilizumab, which received FDA approval March 23 for a clinical trial in COVID-19 patients with severe pneumonia.

The Chinese physicians recommended isolating and observing suspected COVID-19 patients at home, and treating mild or moderate cases in mobile units rather than hospitals, according to STAT. Only severe cases were hospitalized in dedicated COVID-19 facilities in China, as opposed to regular hospitals.

Wuhan hospitals also had committees dedicated to ensuring healthcare workers were using personal protective equipment correctly. They also had committees focused on caring for healthcare workers' families. These measures helped support healthcare workers and helped prevent widespread transmission of the disease among them.

After the meeting, Johns Hopkins physicians asked administrators to create plans that are similar to those set up in Chinese hospitals.

"When facing a global crisis, sharing of medical and scientific information is invaluable if we are to save lives and halt the pandemic as quickly as possible," Paul Auwaerter, MD, clinical director of the division of infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins Medicine, told STAT.



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