Health and Science

New approaches to coronavirus care have helped lower mortality rate, NJ hospital CEO says

Share
Key Points
  • Medical workers have learned how to better treat Covid-19 patients since earlier in the pandemic, likely leading to lower mortality rates, Atlantic Health System CEO Brian Gragnolati told CNBC. 
  • "We've seen tremendous progress in clinical innovation ... and you've got to remember, it's only been about five months," Gragnolati said on "Squawk on the Street." 
  • Gragnolati referenced changes in ventilator use when patients are transferred to ICUs, as well as how to best use drugs such as remdesivir.
VIDEO4:2904:29
Atlantic Health System CEO on the need for coronavirus testing

Medical workers have learned a lot about treating Covid-19 patients since earlier in the pandemic, likely leading to lower mortality rates, Atlantic Health System CEO Brian Gragnolati told CNBC on Tuesday. 

"We've seen tremendous progress in clinical innovation ... and you've got to remember, it's only been about five months," Gragnolati said on "Squawk on the Street." 

Gragnolati, whose health system operates seven hospitals and serves 11 counties in New Jersey, said the use of ventilators is one area where care has changed. Early on, patients who were transferred to the intensive care unit with severe respiratory challenges from Covid-19 often were "immediately" put on ventilators, he said. 

"We realized that while that worked in many of the diseases and surgeries and things that we do, in this particular instance it wasn't working as well," he said. 

Doctors and nurses came to find that proning patients — putting them on their stomachs — was beneficial, Gragnolati said, as was using "high concentration of oxygen" through CPAP and BiPAP machines, which typically are used by patients with sleep apnea. 

As a result, complications related to long-term ventilator use have "really changed and that's driven down dramatically both the mortality but also the length of stay in our ICUs," said Gragnolati, who is also past chairman of the American Hospital Association's board of trustees

A second lesson deals with the use of drugs such as Gilead Sciences' antiviral remdesivir, according to Gragnolati. Although the company says more research on remdesivir needs to be done, an initial study showed it can reduce the risk of death for severely sick coronavirus patients. 

"Initially, we were using it once patients were on ventilators. Now we're using it a little earlier in the process and that has had some very positive results," Gragnolati said. "We continue to learn, and we continue to share those ideas and that really has made a big, big difference." 

Gragnolati's comments follow weeks of growing Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations in the U.S., after the initial surge of the virus hit Northeast states such as New York and New Jersey particularly hard.

Deaths in certain parts of the country such as Texas and California also have seen upticks. But experts say the increased understanding of how to treat Covid-19 like those Gragnolati mentioned, combined with more younger people becoming infected, may help prevent death rates from returning to levels from March and April. 

There are nearly 3.9 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 141,000 people have died. 

VIDEO3:5303:53
Epidemiologist explains the latest Covid-19 vaccine developments