NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - What has become the most in-demand medical treatment in keeping COVID-19 patients alive has some members of the medical community at odds over whether or not it should be used as a first step of providing oxygen.

As the virus first started spreading across the U.S., doctors turned first to ventilators when they say the alarming lack of oxygen that their patients were experiencing.

But now, respected medical journalists are writing stories about the potential overuse of ventilators.

At the Critical Illness, Brain Dysfunction and Survivorship Center in Nashville, Dr. Wes Ely is on the frontlines of the debate.

Having used and studied ventilators for 30 years, Ely said doctors are asking: are ventilators the first best step to keep a patient alive who is struggling with respiratory problems?

“The ventilator allows you to push the air into the lung – that pushing allows you to save a life but also creates damage,” Ely said.

Ely said if the wrong amount of air is used, the lungs can be permanently damaged.

“I think it’s a public health message that doctors only use ventilators when they think it will save a life,” Ely said. “Generally, the ventilator is a worst case scenario.”

Ely said doctors like himself are evaluating constantly if gentler means of introducing oxygen, such as through the nose, should be a first attempt as to not damage the lungs.

But if the virus is advanced enough, doctors may have no choice but to sedate and use a ventilator.

News4 Investigates could find no accurate data at this point to show that lung damage from ventilators is causing a COVID-19 patient to die.

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Jeremy Finley is the chief investigator for News4 Investigates. His reporting has resulted in criminal convictions, legislative hearings before the U.S. Congress, and the payout of more than a million dollars to scam victims.

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