New Data: Shedding Light on COVID-19 in Critically Ill Hospitalized Adult Patients

May 21, 2020

New York, NY

Columbia river skyline

How do adult patients who are hospitalized with severe COVID-19 fare? Researchers at NewYork-Presbyterian and Columbia University Irving Medical Center have just released the largest prospective study in the United States to answer that question.

Published in the journal, The Lancet, the report found that adults who become sick enough to be hospitalized often require critical care, and the use of ventilators is common. Some 22% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients needed intensive care. Among these critically ill patients, almost 80% received invasive mechanical ventilation, and patients spent an average of 18 days on a ventilator to help them breathe. The proportion of patients requiring mechanical ventilation is higher than that observed in smaller studies of patients in Washington State, where the nation’s earliest outbreaks emerged, but is similar to recent reports from Italy. Almost a third of patients experienced kidney damage requiring dialysis. By the end of the study period, nearly 40% had died of the disease.

Researchers followed adult patients with confirmed COVID-19 at two NewYork-Presbyterian hospital campuses in Northern Manhattan: NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center and NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital during the first month of the outbreak in New York City. Of the 1,150 patients admitted between March 2 and April 1, 2020, 257 needed intensive care. Older age, the presence of underlying heart and lung disease, and biomarkers of inflammation and thrombosis were major risk factors associated with death from COVID-19, which mirrors patterns of illness in China, the UK, and Italy.

“In the U.S., there have been almost 1.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and nearly 90,000 deaths,” says study co-author Natalie H. Yip, M.D., a critical care attending physician at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center and an associate professor of medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. “Although the clinical spectrum of disease has been characterized in reports from China and Italy, until now, detailed understanding of how the virus is affecting critically ill patients in the U.S. has been limited to reports from a small number of cases. We aimed to describe the epidemiology and clinical course in critically ill COVID-19 patients in a U.S. hospital setting and identify risk factors for death.”

“Our study provides an in-depth understanding of how COVID-19 may be affecting critically ill patients in U.S. hospitals,” says Max O’Donnell, M.D., a pulmonologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center and the Florence Irving Associate Professor of Medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, and the study’s senior author. “As in other studies of COVID-19, large percentages of critically ill patients required mechanical ventilatory support and renal replacement therapy. By supplying granular detail on risk factors and outcomes, we are better able to inform goals of care discussions for patients and families.”

Other key demographics of critically ill COVID-19 patients detailed in the report:

  • More men (67%) than women were affected.
  • The median age was 62.
  • 22% were under age 50.
  • More than 80% had at least one chronic condition. The most common were high blood pressure (63%), diabetes (36%), and obesity (46%).
  • Almost two-thirds were Hispanic or Latino (62%).
  • One-fifth were black or African American (19%).
  • African American and Latino patients had increased delays in time to presentation. It is unclear whether this reflects barriers in access to care, care seeking behavior or other factors.
  • 5% were health care workers.

At the end of the 28-day study period, 37% were still being treated, while 23% of the patients had been discharged.

The authors cautioned against generalizing the data to other hospital settings and note that more research in more diverse populations is needed to confirm the study’s findings.

“On a personal note, this research has emphasized to me the necessity of doing high-quality clinical research even during an epidemic, and highlighted the importance of cross-departmental collaboration,” says Dr. O’Donnell.

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