British Columbia

COVID-19 death rate at Metro Vancouver hospital ICUs notably lower than in other countries: study

COVID-19 patients in intensive care units at Metro Vancouver hospitals were more likely to survive than patients in hospitals in other countries, according to a study published Wednesday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Author of study in CMAJ partly credits preparation, health protocols, public's physical distancing efforts

Health-care workers in Vancouver General Hospital's COVID-19 unit. (Vancouver Coastal Health)

COVID-19 patients in intensive care units at Metro Vancouver hospitals were more likely to survive than patients in hospitals in other countries, according to a new study. 

The study, published Wednesday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, tracked what happened to 117 patients with COVID-19 who were admitted to six intensive care units (ICUs) in Metro Vancouver. It found the mortality rate for those patients was 15 per cent.

That's notably lower than the mortality rate for patients in other countries, according to researchers. In Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began, the rate was as high as 62 per cent. The mortality rate was 50 per cent in Seattle, 26 per cent in Lombardy, Italy, and 23 per cent in New York.

The study involved patients who were in intensive care between Feb. 21 and April 14. 

Dr. Donald Griesdale, a physician in the ICU at Vancouver General Hospital and senior author of the study, said it was difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons for the relatively high survival rates in B.C. — but they may be partly due to making sure health-care workers have room and equipment to handle COVID-19 patients.

"We had the ability to prepare and train and do simulation. We were really well prepared for that," Griesdale said.

Patients were admitted to six ICUs with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19. (Vancouver Coastal Health)

Griesdale also credited leadership from B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry for establishing safety protocols, and also the public for "buying into physical distancing."

"We weren't overwhelmed because of the tremendous public health and public response," Griesdale said, adding Metro Vancouver hospitals were able to provide "high-quality, accessible, team-based care."

The patients involved in the study were on average 69 years old and around two-thirds were male. As of May 5, 85 per cent of them had recovered or were still recovering. 

'Challenging comparison'

Dr. Srinivas Murthy, a clinical associate professor in the UBC department of pediatrics and an infectious disease specialist, said comparing patients from hospitals all over the world makes it difficult to identify what Metro Vancouver hospitals are doing differently.

"It's a challenging comparison," said Murthy.

"Thresholds for admission to ICU are different around the world. Early assessments and provision of adequate care is different. Whether it's health system strain that's a significant factor once they're in the hospital is unclear."

Murthy said he trusts the assessments made in the study but hopes to see more data in the future, including time between symptoms appearing and presenting at hospital, and ethnicity, in order to better understand COVID-19 and the coronavirus that causes the illness.

"Why we are seeing such different outbreaks in different parts of the world is still something we don't understand too well," Murthy said.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.  

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