COVID Outcomes Similar With ECMO or Mechanical Ventilation

Fran Lowry

May 03, 2021

Severely ill COVID-19 patients treated with extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) had similar survival to hospital discharge and long-term outcomes as survivors treated with mechanical ventilation alone, results of a new, multicenter study suggest.

Importantly, the study also showed that survivors, regardless of the treatment they received, experienced significant deficits following their stay in the intensive care unit and were suffering problems with physical, psychological, and cognitive functioning for months afterwards.

At 3 months after discharge, 50% of the survivors reported cognitive dysfunction, ICU-acquired weakness and depression, anxiety, or posttraumatic stress disorder; over 25% still required supplemental oxygen; and only 1 in 6 survivors were back at work.

The findings were presented April 30 at the American Association for Thoracic Surgery (AATS) annual meeting.

The study represents the efforts of a multidisciplinary team that included cardiothoracic surgeons, critical care doctors, medical staff at long-term care facilities, and physical therapists in addition to other specialists. The research followed patients at five academic centers: University of Colorado, University of Virginia, University of Kentucky, Johns Hopkins University, and Vanderbilt University.

Dr Lauren Taylor

"We were a multidisciplinary team, a whole variety of people to really track the long-term outcomes for patients who have been critically ill from COVID-19 and survived to hospital discharge," presenting author Lauren J. Taylor, MD, fellow at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, Colorado, told | Medscape Cardiology.

It's unclear currently what happens to these patients once they leave the hospital, she noted. "This is information we have not had, but when we followed these patients in these multidisciplinary clinics, there was a high level of either physical, emotional, or cognitive dysfunction, even for patients who were well enough to be living at home at the time of follow-up," Taylor said.

"So, if you have somebody living at home and they come into the clinic, you assume they are functioning pretty well, but when you actually provide them with cognitive and psychological testing and check their physical capabilities, you find a high degree of deficits throughout the entire cohort of this study," she said.

Dr Jessica Rove

The study was prompted by discussion with patients' family members about the rationale, risks, and benefits of ECMO cannulation in patients with COVID-19 failing mechanical ventilation, senior author Jessica V. Rove, MD, also from UC School of Medicine, told | Medscape Cardiology.

"We wanted to find out what their hospital course would be like and what cognitive, physical, or emotional deficits might they experience if they survive," Rove said.

The investigators compared 262 mechanically ventilated patients with 46 patients cannulated for ECMO who were hospitalized between March and May 2020.

ECMO patients were younger and traveled farther but there were no significant differences in gender, race, or body mass index.

ECMO patients were mechanically ventilated for longer durations (median 26 days vs 13 days) and were more likely to receive inhaled pulmonary vasodilators, neuromuscular blockade, investigational COVID-19 therapies, blood transfusions, and inotropes.

They also experienced greater bleeding and clotting events (P < .01).

Despite a more complex critical illness course, patients treated with ECMO had similar survival at discharge and long-term outcomes compared with those who were treated with mechanical ventilation alone.

The survival rate for ECMO patients was 69.9%, and for mechanically ventilated patients it was 69.6%.  

Of the 215 survivors, 66.5% had documented follow-up within 3 months of discharge from hospital. Most survivors (93.9%) were living at home; a small percentage (16.1%) had returned to work or their usual activities, and 26.2% were still using supplemental oxygen.

These rates did not differ significantly based on ECMO status and rates of physical, psychological, and cognitive deficits did not differ significantly.

"The cognitive, emotional and physical deficits seen in survivors of critical illness from COVID-19 can only be treated if diagnosed," Rove said.

"Detrimental effects can potentially be ameliorated with use of best practices in the ICU, maximizing acute rehabilitation services where indicated, and follow up with providers in multidisciplinary post-ICU clinics who can assess and treat these patients to optimize survivorship," she said.

American Association for Thoracic Surgery 101st Annual Meeting. Presented April 30, 2021.

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