As critical COVID cases go up, demand for ECMO escalates

The spike in the number of critical COVID patients has shot up the demand for Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) procedure in Hyderabad, which is offered only at top corporate hospitals. However, heads of the hospitals said that the ECMO machines are limited in number and procuring more would be difficult.

Apart from patients from Telangana, there is a flow of inquiries from attendants of patients from other States. Many patients get airlifted to the city for this procedure from other States.

ECMO is a method in which blood is drawn out of the body into a machine, oxygen is mixed with blood using a special by-pass pump-circuit, and the blood is pumped back into the body. It works as an artificial heart-lungs machine.

The cost of the ECMO procedure, excluding charges for skilled HCWs, for initial two days is around ₹1.75 lakh-₹3 lakh per day. And ₹80,000 to ₹1 lakh a day is charged thereafter. The charges vary according to hospitals. A few patients might need this treatment for up to a month or more.

The machine costs around ₹35 lakh, and the ECMO kit, which consists of medical consumables, cost around ₹3 lakh. This procedure is used as a last resort. “ECMO is opted when a patient suffers from respiratory failure despite maximum mechanical ventilator support,” said consultant, Anaesthesiology and Critical Care at KIMS Hospital Dr. Sharanya Kumar.

CEO of the hospital Dr. Riyaz Khan said that ECMO machines work as artificial heart-lung machines. “By providing ECMO support, we are providing some time for damaged lungs to heal,” he said. The gap between the demand for the treatment and the number of machines is felt at corporate hospitals.

HCOO of Care Hospitals, Banjara Hills, Dr. Rahul Medakkar said that the machines are not easily purchasable since they have to be imported and are in short supply. Apart from high cost, offering the treatment is labour centric as at least two nurses, and an intensivist have to be present to constantly monitor the patients. A surgeon too, would be needed.


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