Developing a Triage Protocol for the COVID-19 Pandemic: Allocating Scarce Medical Resources in a Public Health Emergency

Benjamin Tolchin, Stephen R. Latham, Lori Bruce, Lauren E. Ferrante, Katherine Kraschel,

Karen Jubanyik, Sarah C. Hull, Jennifer L. Herbst, Jennifer Kapo, Ernest D. Moritz, John Hughes, Mark D. Siegel, and Mark Mercurio

 

The coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) has caused shortages of life-sustaining medical resources, and future waves of the virus may cause further scarcity. The Yale New Haven Health System developed a triage protocol to allocate scarce medical resources during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the primary goal of saving the most lives possible, and a secondary goal of making triage assessments and decisions consistent, transparent, and fair. We outline the process of developing the triage protocol, summarize the protocol itself, and discuss the major ethical challenges encountered, along with our answers to these challenges. These challenges include (1) the role of age and chronic comorbidities; (2) evaluating children and pregnant patients; (3) racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities in health; (4) prioritization of healthcare workers; and (5) balancing clinical judgment versus protocolized assessments. We conclude with a review of the limitations of our protocol and the lessons learned. We hope that a robust public discussion of such protocols and the ethical challenges that they raise will result in the fairest possible processes, less need for triage, and more lives saved during future waves of the COVID-19 pandemic and similar public health emergencies.

 

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