Could this be a solution to the ventilator shortage in hospitals?

If you are paying close attention to how the novel coronavirus is taking its toll around the world, you know about the shortage of ventilators.

The main cause of death for COVID-19 patients is respiratory failure.

Ventilators breathe for patients who can no longer do it on their own.

Because of the shortage of ventilators worldwide, some hospitals have taken the desperate measure of hooking up two patients to one ventilator.

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But a board that oversees respiratory care in North Carolina is saying that practice is dangerous and shouldn't be used here.

That board is suggesting an alternative it believes is less dangerous and could also dramatically and immediately increase the number of ventilators for COVID-19 patients.

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It's called a BiPAP ventilator.

And a recent study by a medical research company shows it could be a suitable alternative to those regular hospital ventilators we are hearing so much about these days, according to the Executive Director of the North Carolina Respiratory Care Board.

"It gives us an alternative rather than seeking alternatives that are not proven," Bill Croft told ABC11 in a Skype interview.

He says not only is sharing ventilators unproven, it's inherently unsafe.

"Airflow takes the path of least resistance. So it's going to go the lung that has less resistance," he said. "So that means one patient would get more volume. The other patient would get less volume."

Croft says the NCRCB is suggesting a simple retrofit of another kind of ventilator known as BiPAP.

He said that, according to research by Syneos Health, BiPAP ventilators can be modified from non-invasive to invasive and be used much like other invasive ventilators.

BiPAP ventilators use a mask to provide oxygen to the lungs -- a non-invasive method.

But the machines can be converted to invasive ventilators by simply removing the mask, adding an adapter, and attaching an intubation tube that goes down the patient's wind pipe and into the lungs.

How would overwhelmed hospitals decide who to treat first?

"This way we could at least guarantee how much oxygen a patient was getting and how much ventilation a patient was getting," Croft said.

Croft says, however, doctors will have to decide which patients it will work for and which it won't.

"You can't treat every single patient with it because some patient's lungs are so stiff that this ventilator won't be perfect for everyone. But enough of them would be that could prevent them from actually having to go on regular ventilation."

And that frees up more regular ventilators.

And the good news is the BiPAP machines are readily available, according to Croft.

"There's some estimates that we could literally double our supply of methods of ventilation if we considered that as an option," he said. "I cannot verify that but I can say that there is a lot of those ventilators, the non-invasive ventilators, in the back rooms."

Croft says his agency is currently conducting an inventory of BiPAP machines at North Carolina hospitals.
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