Independent Pressure Control for Multi-Patient Ventilators

ventilator gauges

Due to COVID-19, hospitals will soon experience a shortage of ventilators, forcing physicians to make difficult decisions about which patients receive the lifesaving treatment. Emergency FDA approval has allowed the use of Y junctions to hook multiple patients to the same ventilator. However, these patients need to have similar ventilator settings, such as peak pressure and oxygen, to safely share the device. There is also the risk that the needs will change over time, and people whose settings initially matched diverge as one of them becomes better or worse.

Led by James D. Van de Ven, PhD, associate professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, this study is testing the feasibility of adding an off-the-shelf pressure regulator and gauge to a ventilator to provide independent pressure control for each patient. Researchers say this would give doctors more flexibility in pairing patients and would improve safety by decoupling the pressure between them.

“Decoupling the pressure requirements of each patient reduces the risk associated with having patients share ventilators,” said Van de Ven. “We’re working to double or even quadruple the ventilator supply of hospitals, depending on the number of patients that could be hooked up to each ventilator. With the worst of the disease in the United States still ahead, this would be an important tool to help prevent a ventilator shortage and avoid the situation that arose in Italy.”

This project is supported by the UMN Campus Public Health Officer's CO:VID (Collaborative Outcomes: Visionary Innovation & Discovery) grants program, which support University of Minnesota faculty to catalyze and energize small-scale research projects designed to address and mitigate the COVID-19 virus and its associated risks.