Public health emergencies have the potential to place enormous strain on health systems. The current pandemic of the novel 2019 coronavirus disease has required hospitals in numerous countries to expand their surge capacity to meet the needs of patients with critical illness. When even surge capacity is exceeded, however, principles of critical care triage may be needed as a means to allocate scarce resources, such as mechanical ventilators or key medications. The goal of a triage system is to direct limited resources towards patients most likely to benefit from them. Implementing a triage system requires careful coordination between clinicians, health systems, local and regional governments, and the public, with a goal of transparency to maintain trust. We discuss the principles of tertiary triage and methods for implementing such a system, emphasizing that these systems should serve only as a last resort. Even under triage, we must uphold our obligation to care for all patients as best possible under difficult circumstances.
Keywords: COVID-19 pandemic; disaster preparedness; scarcity of resources; surge capacity; triage.
Copyright © 2020. Published by Elsevier Inc.