Here’s Why Positioning COVID-19 Patients on Their Stomachs Can Save Lives

Last week, Dr. Mangala Narasimhan, the regional director for critical care at Northwell Health, which owns 23 hospitals in New York, received an urgent call. A man in his 40s (a critical Covid-19 patient) was in a dire state, and her colleague wanted her to come the intensive care unit at Long Island Jewish Hospital to see if he needed to be put on life support. Before I come over there, Narasimhan told the other doctor, try turning the patient over onto his stomach and see if that helps.

Narasimhan didn’t need to go the ICU. The flip worked. WHY?

With more and more critical patients turning up at the hospital, doctors are learning that placing the sickest coronavirus patients on their stomachs, called prone positioning – helps increase the amount of oxygen that’s getting to their lungs.

When the patient at Long Island Jewish was placed on his stomach, his oxygen saturation rate, a measure of oxygen in the blood, went from 85% to 98%, a huge jump
“We’re saving lives with this, one hundred percent,” said Narasimhan. “It’s such a simple thing to do, and we’ve seen remarkable improvement. We can see it for every single patient.” “Once you see it work, you want to do it more, and you see it work almost immediately,” added Dr. Kathryn Hibbert, director of the medical ICU at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Has this ever worked before?

Turns out, yes.

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Seven years ago, French doctors published an article in the showing that patients with ARDS who were on ventilators had a lower chance of dying if they were placed on their stomachs in the hospital.

As per critical care specialists, once the patient is on their backs, it allows oxygen to more easily get to the lungs. While on the back, the weight of the body in effect squishes some sections of the lungs.
“By putting them on their stomachs, we’re opening up parts of the lung that weren’t open before,” Hibbert said.
Doctors are now trying to see if the proning position helps only those on the ventilator, or can also be beneficial for those that are COVID-19 patients but don’t require a ventilator yet.
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