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Doctors in Wuhan talking with doctors at Upstate via video conference.

Upstate consults with doctors in Wuhan, China on best practices for protecting staff, treating patients and handling pandemic

To share common experiences and best practices, Upstate Medical University facilitated a video conference call Saturday with a team of doctors and hospital administrators in Wuhan, China, where the novel coronavirus was first detected in the global coronavirus pandemic. 

Upstate College of Medicine Dean Lawrence Chin, MD, FAANS, FACS, worked with neurosurgery professor Li-Ru Zhao, PhD, who has colleagues in Wuhan to arrange for the call. They used Project ECHO, a national telehealth teleconferencing network to coordinate the 90-minute call between Upstate and Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Tongji Medical College, Union Hospital in Wuhan.

“Since I know Dr. Bo Hu, chair of neurology in Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Tongji Medical College, Union Hospital, Wuhan, China, and Union Hospital is the best hospital in Wuhan city I contacted her and asked her to help us,” Zhao said. “Dr. Hu immediately sent the request to her colleagues and the CEO of the hospital. Within two days, they assembled a great team led by the hospital CEO, several department chairs and clinical experts.”

Chin and Zhao worked together with Project ECHO Manager Deidre Keefe to arrange the meeting.  

“We thought it would be really helpful to have the perspective and experience of doctors that have been dealing with this the longest,” Chin said. The 90-minute call took place at 7:30 a.m. Syracuse time and 7:30 p.m. in Wuhan. Six clinical experts were on the call from Wuhan and more than 90 medical professionals – the vast majority from Upstate – participated from around the state.

Those on the call shared information about early identification and diagnosis, imagological examination, drug use, hormone therapy, immune adjustment, plasma exchange, ECMO treatment and more. Chin said both sides discussed best practices in protecting hospital staff from the virus at length.

“It validated many of the things that we’re doing at Upstate in terms of proper protocols: isolating patients, protecting the staff and protecting the patients,” he said. “So I think that was good to know that the things we’re doing here were effective there.”

COVID-19 was first identified in Wuhan late last year and the city and surrounding provinces were locked down for more than two months, affecting 58 million people. The doctors on the call from Wuhan have extensive experience treating coronavirus, Chin said.

“They emphasized the fact that social distancing is a very effective way of mitigating the spread of the virus and they’ve been successful in China because of their efforts in social distancing,” Chin said. “The other thing that we’re learning and was also confirmed by our colleagues is that it can be spread by people who are asymptomatic.”

The Wuhan hospital’s CEO opened Saturday’s meeting by expressing his sorrow that New York state and all of the United States were facing the pandemic, Chin said. Overall, the meeting was productive and hopeful, Chin said.

“I think it gives us hope that we can get through this if we’re smart; if we flatten the curve so that we don’t overwhelm our resources,” Chin said. “I think the biggest danger for us is if we overwhelm our healthcare resources and then don’t have enough personal protective equipment. The experience shows that if we’re using the PPEs we can keep people healthy.

“If we can protect these people then we can see that there is a path to get through this.”

The videoconference call was conducted primarily in English with some Mandarin translation provided by second-year Upstate resident of anesthesiology, Qi Yang.

The doctors agreed to continue to share information about the ongoing pandemic and a future Project ECHO session between Upstate and doctors in Wuhan could happen again in the near future, Chin said.

“They have been very generous in doing this and they said that if another Zoom meeting was going to be useful they would be happy to,” Chin said. “We left it very open-ended.”

Caption: Doctors in Wuhan speak with medical professionals from Upstate Medical University via videoconferencing on Saturday, March 28.