12 May 2020
Intuitive Design of Helmet-Based Ventilators Could Mitigate Effects of Global Healthcare Staff Shortage
The pandemic has been relentless on healthcare systems worldwide, as nations are struggling to contain the consequences of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In parallel, the world is racing to build more ventilators, which are essential for critically ill COVID-19 patients with respiratory distress. However, the shortage of trained staff raises the question: will there be enough medical professionals left to operate them? Helmet-based ventilators could help alleviate the problem, as its simplistic setup enables them to be operated by a wider range of staff.
The shortage of trained medical workers has compelled governments to consider alternatives in mitigating the crisis. Some countries have reached out for out-of-state support. The Republic of Cuba has deployed over 200 doctors to aid South Africa in the COVID-19 hotspot provinces. The US Senate has introduced a new bill, which, upon approval, would provide visas for approximately 40,000 foreign doctors and nurses. The current health crisis has even encouraged some universities to open a medical degree to better staff the surrounding area with future professionals.
When it comes to ventilators, essential for treating severe cases of the virus, the situation becomes particularly concerning. Patients can be intubated only by doctors or other medical staff, specifically trained to conduct the procedure. Without the sufficient amount of experienced healthcare workers, patients in need of ventilator support will not be able to get the necessary treatment. Helmet-based ventilators (HBV) could help ease the pressure placed on the system, as its simplistic design expands the range of medical staff that could use the technology for patients battling the coronavirus.
“The immense pressure has definitely taken a toll on all healthcare professionals, working day and night to reduce the severity of the situation”, said Aurika Savickaitė, MSN, APN. “Some procedures, necessary for treating coronavirus patients, require having specific training, which not all medical staff available on the premises may possess. Using helmet-based ventilators could help better distribute duties among hospital personnel, as its intuitive design does not require such intricate set of skills as intubation. This would give us a greater chance to maintain the integrity of the healthcare system and keep it from collapsing.”
Utilizing HBV technology could also reduce the number of patients that need invasive ventilation. Intubated patients are more likely to suffer severe consequences, which heavily affect the quality of living in the aftermath of the virus. The vast majority never fully recover, and the ones that do often need to relearn basic motor skills, such as walking and swallowing. So far, the use of the NIV hood helped to avoid intubation in 20 % of COVID-19 patients.
“Introducing the helmet-based ventilator as an additional step before resorting to intubation would give people more of a fighting chance to return to their normal life after beating the virus,” says Ms. Aurika Savickaitė. “Moreover, it doesn’t require the patient to be heavily sedated, helping to save up on the already scarce sedative reserve.”
In addition to doing less damage to the patient than the mechanical ventilator, the HBV is much more cost-efficient to produce. Its design consists of easily obtainable parts, thus helmets can be produced even in at-home conditions. People in support of the HBV initiative have been uniting in the “NIV Helmet Manufacturing Project to Combat COVID-19” group, documenting the manufacturing process and sharing their insights on how it can be improved. Since the “bubble helmet” does not require being highly tech-savvy or complex equipment, it could reinforce the pandemic relief effort in the emerging countries, struggling to supply their hospitals with the critically needed ventilators.
The Helmet-based initiative is led by a group of medical professionals, who seek to introduce the technology to all frontline workers fighting the virus. The team has launched a website helmetbasedventilation.com, where healthcare professionals, potential manufacturers and investors can access all the know-how on the HBV and utilize the information to better support the global COVID-19 response effort.