The impact of high-flow nasal cannula use on patient mortality and the availability of mechanical ventilators in COVID-19

Hayley B. Gershengorn, Yue Hu, Jen Ting Chen, S. Jean Hsieh, Jing Dong, Michelle Ng Gong, Carri W. Chan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Rationale: How to provide advanced respiratory support for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to maximize population-level survival while optimizing mechanical ventilator access is unknown. Objectives: To evaluate the use of high-flow nasal cannula for COVID-19 on population-level mortality and ventilator availability. Methods: We constructed dynamical (deterministic) simulation models of high-flow nasal cannula and mechanical ventilation use for COVID-19 in the United States. Model parameters were estimated through consensus based on published literature, local data, and experience. We had the following two outcomes: 1) cumulative number of deaths and 2) days without any available ventilators. We assessed the impact of various policies for the use of high-flow nasal cannula (with or without “early intubation”) versus a scenario in which high-flow nasal cannula was unavailable. Results: The policy associated with the fewest deaths and the least time without available ventilators combined the use of high-flow nasal cannula for patients not urgently needing ventilators with the use of early mechanical ventilation for these patients when at least 10% of ventilator supply was not in use. At the national level, this strategy resulted in 10,000-40,000 fewer deaths than if high-flow nasal cannula were not available. In addition, with moderate national ventilator capacity (30,000-45,000 ventilators), this strategy led to up to 25 (11.8%) fewer days without available ventilators. For a 250-bed hospital with 100 mechanical ventilators, the availability of 13, 20, or 33 high-flow nasal cannulas prevented 81, 102, and 130 deaths, respectively. Conclusions: The use of high-flow nasal cannula coupled with early mechanical ventilation when supply is sufficient results in fewer deaths and greater ventilator availability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)623-631
Number of pages9
JournalAnnals of the American Thoracic Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021


  • COVID-19
  • High-flow nasal cannula
  • Mechanical ventilation
  • Simulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine


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