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Hospital promotes prone therapy for COVID cases

By YANG CHENG in Tianjin | China Daily | Updated: 2023-01-31 09:16
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A 70-year-old COVID-19 patient who suffered from fever and low oxygen saturation left for home during the Spring Festival after a seven-day treatment in Tianjin Third Central Hospital.

Xu Lei, director of the hospital's intensive care unit, said the patient benefited from early treatment featuring prone position therapy, in which patients are flipped onto their stomachs for at least 12 hours a day to open their lungs, improve blood oxygenation and accelerate recovery.

Since Jan 6, Tianjin has taken the lead in China to include the previously little-known therapy for acute respiratory distress syndrome into the local medical insurance system, allowing 55 to 80 percent of the 200 yuan ($30) fee to be reimbursed.

Xu said the treatment is professionally and physically demanding, as the doctors have to constantly examine the patient, tutoring them on how to adjust their movements and checking their conditions to avoid risks. Notably, the health policy coverage would better reflect the value of the clinical work and therefore encourage the practice.

Nationwide, Zhejiang and Guangdong provinces have followed suit and included the therapy in local health policy.

Xu, who is also the head of Tianjin's COVID-19 ICU expert team, said the therapy could significantly prevent moderate and severe deterioration due to pneumonia.

He reiterated that early and rapid prone position therapy for COVID-19 patients has proved effective, and suggested it be conducted "as early as possible".

The hospital has made video lectures for community-based clinics and opened a hotline service for them to answer questions in mastering the techniques.

His team based a proposal to the government on research in 2022, when Tianjin was hit by the earliest outbreak of the Omicron variant in China in January, and 197 of the patients who were admitted into a COVID-19 designated hospital were treated with the therapy with positive outcomes, he said.

The 10th edition of the COVID-19 treatment protocol released by the National Health Commission early this month recommended awake prone position therapy be applied to more patients who are diagnosed to have medium-level symptoms, expanding from the previous edition that said it would only benefit those patients with associated risk factors and those at risk of rapidly worsening.

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