Iceland Shows High Success Rates in Intensive Care for COVID-19 Patients Skip to content
COVID-19 ward Iceland National University Hospital Tómas Guðbjartsson
Photo: Tómas Guðbjartsson. The empty COVID-19 ward at Iceland’s National University Hospital on April 26, 2020..

Iceland Shows High Success Rates in Intensive Care for COVID-19 Patients

The COVID ward at Iceland’s National University Hospital is very quiet these days. The number of active cases in the country has been dropping steadily since April 5 and more than 90% of those who tested positive for the novel coronavirus have recovered. A new report shows that a much smaller proportion of patients have needed intensive care in Iceland than elsewhere, and of those who have, many more recovered.

Fewer COVID patients need intensive care, more recover

Dr. Martin Ingi Sigurðsson, an anesthesiologist and intensive care specialist is part of a team of Icelandic ICU doctors who are publishing a report on Iceland’s success in intensive care for COVID-19 patients, both at the National University Hospital in Reykjavík and Akureyri Hospital in North Iceland. He told mbl.is that only 1.5% of those who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus in Iceland have needed intensive care, while a rate of 5-10% was reported in comparable countries at the start of the pandemic.

Furthermore, most of the COVID-19 patients admitted to intensive care in Iceland have recovered and less than 15% have died. This percentage is dramatically lower than rates of 50-90% that were reported in early stages of the pandemic in Italy, China, and England.

Close monitoring ensures adequate care

“Of course, we’ve been able to test relatively many for the virus, so we know about the infection of many more people with milder symptoms. This, in the larger context, lowers the proportion of those who become seriously ill,” Martin explains. He adds, however, that close monitoring of patients has also contributed to Iceland’s success in treatment of COVID-19. “The COVID ward that has been monitoring patients who are at home has been very successful. They have called in people who describe worsening health and symptoms and provided treatment in the ward.”

Close monitoring has thus ensured that patients receive appropriate care in a timely fashion, likely avoiding more serious illness. At its peak, the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care reached 13. As of the time of writing, only one COVID patient is in intensive care and 11 in hospital, and none of them on ventilators. Of Iceland’s total number of 1,792, confirmed cases, 90% are now recovered.

Hospital director hopes to apply new working methods

Icelandic doctors have been monitoring all COVID-19 cases closely, including all cases isolated at home, with the help of phone calls and an app where sick individuals can record their symptoms. Landspítali Director Páll Matthiasson says working methods developed to support COVID-19 patients have had a positive impact on other parts of the hospital. For example, “The issue of long waits in emergency has disappeared.”

Páll hopes the National Hospital can transfer what it has learned from the COVID-19 ward to other wards. Apps and phone service can help healthcare staff provide more flexible services that both better serve patients and reduce strain on hospitals and staff. Such services could also ensure better care for the elderly outside of nursing homes. “We in modern times can be a lot more flexible and should adapt much more to what people need.”

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