Worst case scenario: Geisinger professionals curate ventilator sharing study


Geisinger professionals gathered together during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to understand if ventilators could be shared in the event that patients would need it while hospitals are in short supply. Dr. Mark Poler, anesthesiologist and senior author, was a part of the study and said that it is possible, but it comes with some challenges like making sure the lung health and elasticity is similar for both patients to be able to get the same amount of oxygen through a shared ventilator. “Some who have COVID can have very severe lung problems,” Poler said. “It is not at all clear … some people have COVID infections and no symptoms while others have the infection and more severe and life-threatening side effects. The ventilator can assist or take over filling the lungs with the necessary oxygen that the patient needs.”

He added that the study is done through a computational model of the human physiology to match patients by the elasticity of their lungs, blood oxygen levels and how much pressure from the ventilation each patient can take.

“It’s a very sophisticated computer model that reflects the actual situation of what the lungs are dealing with,” Poler said.

Sharing a ventilator between two patients who don’t have similar lung health and elasticity could be drastic and life-threatening for both of the patients, one of them not getting sufficient amount of oxygens or even possibly getting too much without the proper physiological means.

Two patients that have similar elasticity and similar lung health are then able to share a ventilator, if needed. The goal is to not get to that point, Poler said.

“The idea hatched when we saw a lot of people were going to be affected by it,” he continued. “The estimated number of ventilators were inadequate for the projected number of patients. Italy, Belgium and Spain ran into the problem where they didn’t have ventilators.”

He added that this study, which came up with over 50,000 different pairings of patient models for shared ventilators, was not only created to help the United States healthcare systems but also healthcare systems outside of the country during the ever-growing pandemic.

This study was even used prior during the Las Vegas shooting and in New York in the beginning of the pandemic.

“The situation in the country as a whole has changed a lot and more ventilators have been made,” Poler said. “We are in a better situations and we hope that this is just a theoretical exercise. A draft of the study was sent to the World Health Organization … in other places with more limited resources it is more likely that they are going to have to do something like this.”

“It is possible,” he said.


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