How ECMO Life-Support Technology Is Saving Lives During COVID-19

Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) life-support technology is a less well-known, but critically effective option for treating COVID-19. Ventilators have been a crucial component in combating the COVID-19 pandemic, but in some of the worst cases, they aren’t enough to effectively fight off the disease. For the sickest COVID-19 patients who were relatively young and healthy before being infected, EMCO could be their last chance at life.

ECMO is made up of a complex circuit of pumps, tubes, filters, and monitors that take over a patient’s heart and lungs. ECMO channels a patient’s blood outside of their body in order to add oxygen and remove waste before returning it to the circulatory system. This technology requires constant monitoring by an expert team. Though it requires a high level of involvement, the ECMO has been doing its part in successfully saving lives.

“Despite the substantial resources required to care for patients on ECMO, we believe this is an appropriate strategy for selected patients that are otherwise at imminent risk of death,” Medical Director of U-M’s ECMO program Jonathan Haft said. He adds that so far, the outcomes for ECMO patients treated by U-M’s team appear to be similar to outcomes from treating patients with other causes of acute respiratory failure.

According to 24×7 Magazine, experts caution that patients must be evaluated by an ECMO center and transitioned to ECMO treatment before their condition worsens too much. Patients should not have been on a ventilator for more than seven days before starting ECMO, which means they should be considered for ECMO quickly after being intubated.

In March Robert Bartlett, who led the development of modern ECMO, created guidance for the use of the treatment in response to COVID-19 to help centers with existing ECMO capabilities. These guidelines are meant to help facilities understand when to divert resources to this form of care, and which patients to prioritize. Bartlett does not recommend that any health care facility set up a new ECMO program in the middle of a pandemic.

“We don’t know yet what the survival rate will be for ECMO-supported patients with this virus, but,” Bartlett said. “Sharing what we do know as the information is accumulated has been a valued resource for those considering ECMO support in patients with COVID-19.”

No matter the technology your healthcare facility is using to fight the spread of COVID-19, you need to ensure that each piece of equipment is running smoothly. Intermed offers Healthcare Technology Management services to keep your facility running to the best of its ability, giving your patients peace of mind and helping you save lives. Learn more at