Since February 15, the presence of coronavirus has been steadily increasing in Italy. Even now, in mid-June, the curve is only beginning to flatten. More than 237,800 Italians have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and nearly 35,000 have lost their lives to the disease.
But since the second week of March, Dr. Luigi Cavanna, head of the oncology ward at Piacenza Hospital, has been responding to his country’s crisis in a unique way. After realizing that too many elderly patients were arriving in the emergency room in serious condition, Dr. Cavanna developed a strategy to treat those patients at home, earlier, before their symptoms worsened.
Dr. Luigi Cavanna Works to Flatten the Curve
Dr. Cavanna responded to the rapid spread of COVID-19 in his region of Italy by traveling throughout the area with several colleagues.
When I realized that the emergency room was overcrowded with people already in serious condition, I knew something was wrong,” Cavanna explained. “This is not a stroke or a heart attack, but a virus that can hit in different ways and that follows its course. We have to try to stop it before it damages the lungs in a way that is sometimes irreversible.”
According to the data he collected during March and April, less than 10% of the 300 patients he treated at home became so sick that they required hospitalization. Cavanna and his team used equipment, protective gear, and medication provided both by the hospital and private donors. Their protective suits were designed to prevent any chance of infection: goggles, two masks, two gloves, two caps, shoe covers, and an additional disposable gown at each home.
In addition to medications like hydroxychloroquine, Cavanna and his team also brought patients devices to monitor oxygen levels in the blood, tanks of oxygen, and bags of fluid with nutrients for non-oral feeding, when necessary.
Cavanna stressed the importance of having a doctor prescribe and monitor the medication vigilantly. “Every day I receive dozens of phone calls and answer all of them. I prefer answering the phone at 2 a.m. rather than hearing that a patient is getting worse,” he explained.
Doctors Without Borders Modeling New Services on Cavanna’s Efforts
Now, as the rate of coronavirus cases finally plateaus in Italy, medical officials are trying to evaluate what measures helped and hindered their recovery efforts. They’re increasingly turning to new initiatives like the home-based care model launched by Cavanna.
Nonprofit organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, as well as location administrations in other regions are now organizing groups of doctors to provide at-home medical care for Italy’s at-risk population.
Pier Luigi Bartoletti, deputy secretary of FIMMG, the Italian federation of family doctors, admits that the coronavirus pandemic has been an eye-opener for the entire medical industry. “We were taken by surprise at a time when we felt immortal, but now it is clear to everyone that this is not the case,” says Pier Luigi Bartoletti. “If we repeat the same mistakes, it will be our fault too.”