Importance: Crisis standards of care (CSOC) scores designed to allocate scarce resources during the COVID-19 pandemic could exacerbate racial disparities in health care.
Objective: To analyze the association of a CSOC scoring system with resource prioritization and estimated excess mortality by race, ethnicity, and residence in a socially vulnerable area.
Design, setting, and participants: This retrospective cohort analysis included adult patients in the intensive care unit during a regional COVID-19 surge from April 13 to May 22, 2020, at 6 hospitals in a health care network in greater Boston, Massachusetts. Participants were scored by acute severity of illness using the Sequential Organ Failure Assessment score and chronic severity of illness using comorbidity and life expectancy scores, and only participants with complete scores were included. The score was ordinal, with cutoff points suggested by the Massachusetts guidelines.
Exposures: Race, ethnicity, Social Vulnerability Index.
Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcome was proportion of patients in the lowest priority score category stratified by self-reported race. Secondary outcomes were discrimination and calibration of the score overall and by race, ethnicity, and neighborhood Social Vulnerability Index. Projected excess deaths were modeled by race, using the priority scoring system and a random lottery.
Results: Of 608 patients in the intensive care unit during the study period, 498 had complete data and were included in the analysis; this population had a median (IQR) age of 67 (56-75) years, 191 (38.4%) female participants, 79 (15.9%) Black participants, and 225 patients (45.7%) with COVID-19. The area under the receiver operating characteristic curve for the priority score was 0.79 and was similar across racial groups. Black patients were more likely than others to be in the lowest priority group (12 [15.2%] vs 34 [8.1%]; P = .046). In an exploratory simulation model using the score for ventilator allocation, with only those in the highest priority group receiving ventilators, there were 43.9% excess deaths among Black patients (18 of 41 patients) and 28.6% (58 of 203 patients among all others (P = .05); when the highest and intermediate priority groups received ventilators, there were 4.9% (2 of 41 patients) excess deaths among Black patients and 3.0% (6 of 203) among all others (P = .53). A random lottery resulted in more excess deaths than the score.
Conclusions and relevance: In this study, a CSOC priority score resulted in lower prioritization of Black patients to receive scarce resources. A model using a random lottery resulted in more estimated excess deaths overall without improving equity by race. CSOC policies must be evaluated for their potential association with racial disparities in health care.