Functionality of Scarce Healthcare Resource Triage Teams During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Multi-Institutional Simulation Study

Crit Care Explor. 2022 Jan 21;4(1):e0627. doi: 10.1097/CCE.0000000000000627. eCollection 2022 Jan.


Plans for allocating scarce healthcare resources during the COVID-19 pandemic commonly involve the activation of institutional triage teams. These teams would be responsible for selecting patients who are most likely to survive to be prioritized to receive scarce resources. However, there is little empirical support for this approach.

Design: High-fidelity triage-team simulation study.

Setting: Healthcare institutions in Washington state.

Subjects: Triage teams, consisting of at least two senior clinicians and a bioethicist.

Interventions: Participants reviewed a limited amount of deidentified information for a diverse sample of critically ill patients. Teams then assigned each patient to one of five prioritization categories defined by likelihood of survival to hospital discharge. The process was refined based on observation and participant feedback after which a second phase of simulations was conducted.

Measurements and main results: Feasibility was assessed by the time required for teams to perform their task. Prognostic accuracy was assessed by comparing teams' prediction about likelihood of survival to hospital discharge with real-world discharge outcomes. Agreement between the teams on prognostic categorization was evaluated using kappa statistics. Eleven triage team simulations (eight in phase 1 and three in phase 2) were conducted from December 2020 to February 2021. Overall, teams reviewed a median of 23 patient cases in each session (interquartile range [IQR], 17-29) and spent a median of 102 seconds (IQR, 50-268) per case. The concordance between expected survival and real-world survival to discharge was 71% (IQR, 64-76%). The overall agreement between teams for placement of patients into prognostic categories was moderate (weighted kappa = 0.53).

Conclusions: These findings support the potential feasibility, accuracy, and effectiveness of institutional triage teams informed by a limited set of patient information items as part of a strategy for allocating scarce resources in healthcare emergencies. Additional work is needed to refine the process and adapt it to local contexts.

Keywords: crisis standards of care; pandemic; scarce resource; triage.