Henry Ford finds hydroxychloroquine may lower COVID-19 death rates

Henry Ford Health System research shows that using hydroxychloroquine for certain hospitalized COVID-19 patients improved survival rates compared to patients who didn’t receive the treatment.

Hydroxychloroquine, which is commonly used to treat malaria, has emerged as a controversial treatment option for COVID-19 as several studies produced varying results about the drug’s benefits and President Donald Trump touted its use to prevent the virus despite clear evidence.

Henry Ford researchers and leaders acknowledge its findings are contradictory to other studies on the subject, but they note the differences in their study design. Their study focused on patients who were hospitalized and tested positive for COVID-19. Patients received hydroxychloroquine within two days of admission and were given a specific dosage. Hospital staff carefully monitored patients’ hearts and intervened if necessary.

“We are scientists — we had no preconceived agenda in developing this study or releasing the results,” said Dr. Steven Kalkanis, Henry Ford Medical Group’s CEO, during a press call with reporters.

The research, published in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Infectious Diseases, is an analysis of mortality rates for 2,541 patients admitted to Henry Ford hospitals for COVID-19 between March 10 to May 2. Patients who received hydroxychloroquine had a mortality rate of 13.5% compared to 26% for patients who didn’t receive the treatment. Some patients also received a combination of hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin; their mortality rate was 20%.

The median age of the COVID-19 patients was 64, and 56% of patients were Black.

Although outcomes were favorable for hydroxychloroquine, study co-author Dr. Marcus Zervos said the treatment isn’t recommended outside of hospitals and researchers need to conduct more randomized control studies to understand the best use of the drug.

The Food and Drug Administration previously granted emergency authorization to use hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19, but that has expired. Henry Ford is no longer using the treatment for COVID-19 patients, Zervos said.

A group of physicians with infectious disease expertise wrote a companion editorial, noting flaws in the study’s design. The study’s mortality rates could have been skewed for patients who didn’t receive hydroxychloroquine because they likely had poorer prognoses on admission.

The editorial also called out Henry Ford for initiating a treatment protocol for hydroxychloroquine at the onset of the pandemic when there was very little evidence to support its use.

“It is a failing of healthcare systems and research infrastructure that the protocolization of unproven therapies is exponentially easier to execute than participation in pragmatic randomized controlled trials,” the editorial said. “Moving forward, we encourage academic centers to commit to participating in the necessary clinical trials that will establish high quality evidence for safe and effective therapies in the shortest possible time.”

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