Reflections on New Evidence on Crisis Standards of Care in the COVID-19 Pandemic
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 R. Mercurio
Crisis standards of care have been widely developed by healthcare systems and states in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in some rare cases have actually been used to allocate medical resources. All publicly available U.S. crisis standards of care with a mechanism for allocating scarce resources make use of the Sequential Organ Failure Assessment (SOFA) score in hopes of assigning scarce resources to those patients who are more likely to survive. We reflect on the growing body of evidence suggesting that the SOFA score has limited accuracy in predicting mortality among patients hospitalized with COVID-19 and that the SOFA score systematically disfavors Black patients. Use of the SOFA score for allocating scarce resources may therefore result in Black patients with equal likelihood of survival being deprived of life-saving medical resources. There is also a risk of injustice for patients with non-COVID-19 diagnoses, for whom the SOFA score may be a more accurate prognostic score, but who might nevertheless be unfairly (de)prioritized when assessed alongside COVID-19 patients using the same scoring system. For these reasons we recommend that the SOFA score not be used for triage purposes during the COVID pandemic, and that a national effort be made to develop and empirically test crisis standards of care in advance of the next public health emergency.
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