Professional societies have developed recommendations for patient triage protocols, but wide variations in triage patterns for many acute conditions exist among hospitals in the United States. Differences in hospitals' triage patterns can be attributed to factors such as physician behavior, hospital policy and real-time conditions such as intensive care unit capacity. The patient safety concern is that patients evaluated for admission to the intensive care unit during times of high intensive care unit capacity may have adverse outcomes related to delays in care. Because standardization of a national triage policy is not feasible due to differing resources available at each hospital, local guidelines should prevail that take into account hospitals' local resources. The goal would be to better match intensive care unit bed supply with demand.
Keywords: Acute respiratory illness; Critical care; Intensive care unit; Patient triage; Resource utilization.