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Virtual Course Combats Ventilator Crisis

An illustration for a video guide called "Ventilators for Non-Intensivists"
As hospitals across the world treat patients with COVID-19, physicians from different departments who don’t usually work in the intensive care unit (ICU) are being called on to help. That means learning how to use ventilators for COVID-19 patients.

Burton Lee in a dark blue suit and light blue collared shirt
It’s an issue Burton Lee has been seeing in his email inbox.

“Physicians, usually former students working in other fields of medicine like dermatology or cardiology, were emailing me a couple times a week on educational content relating to intensive care,” said Lee, professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, who specializes in pulmonary, allergy and critical care medicine. “These are smart people, and some have worked in an ICU setting at some point in their careers. But now, they’re being asked to help in this pandemic.”

In response, Lee and other medical experts at Pitt have created a series of peer-reviewed educational videos aimed at instructing those who aren’t acclimated to an ICU setting on how to best use ventilators for COVID-19 patients, titled “Ventilators for Non-Intensivists.” The videos are about 10 minutes long each and thoroughly go through step-by-step processes and what-if scenarios for physicians working with the ventilators.

Three videos have been peer-reviewed and published in ATS Scholar and can be downloaded from the American Thoracic Society’s website. Two more videos are currently being reviewed for publication.

“There’s been a lot of willingness in the broader Pitt and UPMC community to help out during this pandemic. This is especially true of helping hospitals in New York,” said Megan Acho, a fellow in Pitt’s Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine and a co-creator of the video series. “The feedback we were getting from people who weren’t comfortable task managing these ventilators made us realize the valuable opportunity for us to put this video series together to educate and support people.”

“Megan has been doing the lion’s share of putting the video content together,” Lee added.

Megan Acho in an olive top
Also on the video team is Alyson Lee, a human biology student at the University of Virginia, as well as Burton Lee’s daughter.

“She graciously helped us in between her classes, exams and senior thesis,” Burton Lee said. “She helped us with the hand-written illustrations and figures for the videos.”

While the team’s focus has been on New York-based community hospitals, the hope is that physicians everywhere will be able to access these videos.

“Anecdotally, the feedback we’ve gotten on social media has been from all over the world. This series has far-reaching implications and hopefully people are benefiting from this,” Acho said.

Lee is also on a task force focused on 3D-printing ventilators.

While the task force was prepared to create new ventilators, the Pittsburgh region did not face a severe shortage of ventilators as other U.S. cities did. However, Lee said one of “a handful” of positive things to come out of this pandemic is the level of interest people have in learning new tasks such as ventilator creation and managing.

“It’s not every day that as educators, when you give a lecture, people are 100% focused on what you’re saying. Students come with different backgrounds and levels of interest in the material you’re trying to teach,” he said. “In this pandemic though, these topics have become very important to everybody. The extra level of motivation and desire to learn these new things has been beneficial.”