With the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the nation, some regions of our country are encountering a shortage of health care providers to look after the surge of hospitalized patients. As personnel resources are strained, neurosurgeons are being asked to care for critically ill patients — including ones that do not have neurological diagnoses.

Beyond a robust foundation in neurocritical care during training and daily practice, some neurosurgeons have additional training in critical care to become full-time neurointensivists. As such, neurosurgeons of all subspecialties may be tapped to care for patients in the intensive care unit (ICU). This is not surprising because of the skills all neurosurgeons develop to monitor patients closely and act swiftly and decisively when the need arises. The complexity of neurosurgical patients demands an extensive understanding of how the body’s organ systems interact and must be treated when acute multi-organ dysfunction exists. Patients with ruptured aneurysms, traumatic brain injuries, strokes and spinal cord compression may also have respiratory failure, cardiac disease and acute kidney injury.

While learning about critical care is a part of neurosurgical training, many neurosurgeons have not been practicing critical care medicine since leaving training. One strength of organized neurosurgery is its ability to draw neurosurgeons together for a common purpose. To aid neurosurgeons in their new mission, the Joint Section on Neurotrauma & Critical Care (Trauma Section) of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS) and Congress of Neurological Surgeons (CNS) developed A Neurosurgeon’s Guide to Pulmonary Critical Care for COVID-19, a presentation that includes:

  • A review of pulmonary physiology;
  • Protocols to promote the safety of caregivers;
  • Basics of ventilator management;
  • Recommendations from multiple professional societies for the care of COVID-19 patients; and
  • A review of techniques to optimize patient care.

This presentation is available on the COVID-19 resource hubs of the AANS, the CNS and the American Board of Neurological Surgery.

The Trauma Section has also developed additional guidance, A Neurosurgeon’s Guide to Cardiovascular and Renal Critical Care for COVID-19, which is available from the AANS and the CNS.

While our nation faces a new challenge in the COVID-19 pandemic, organized neurosurgery is rising to meet it. The educational efforts of the AANS and the CNS, along with health care policy advocacy from the AANS/CNS Washington Committee, are helping to prepare neurosurgeons in all stages in their career to answer this call.

Editor’s note: We hope that you will share what you learn from our posts. We invite you to be part of the conversation on Twitter by following and using the hashtag #COVID19.

Alan Hoffer, MD, FAANS
Chair, Critical Care Committee of the AANS/CNS Joint Section on Neurotrauma & Critical Care
University Hospitals of Cleveland
Case Western Reserve University

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