Operationalizing Ethical Guidance for Ventilator Allocation in Minnesota: Saving the Most Lives or Exacerbating Health Disparities?

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Crit Care Explor. 2021 Jun 11;3(6):e0455. doi: 10.1097/CCE.0000000000000455. eCollection 2021 Jun.


A statewide working group in Minnesota created a ventilator allocation scoring system in anticipation of functioning under a Crisis Standards of Care declaration. The scoring system was intended for patients with and without coronavirus disease 2019. There was disagreement about whether the scoring system might exacerbate health disparities and about whether the score should include age. We measured the relationship of ventilator scores to in-hospital and 3-month mortality. We analyzed our findings in the context of ethical and legal guidance for the triage of scarce resources.

DESIGN: Retrospective cohort study.

SETTING: Multihospital within a single healthcare system.

PATIENTS: Five-hundred four patients emergently intubated and admitted to the ICU.


MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: The Ventilator Allocation Score was positively associated with higher mortality (p < 0.0001). The 3-month mortality rate for patients with a score of 6 or higher was 96% (42/44 patients). Age was positively associated with mortality. The 3-month mortality rate for patients 80 and older with scores of 4 or greater was 93% (40/43 patients). Of patients assigned a score of 5, those with end stage renal disease had lower mortality than patients without end stage renal disease although the difference did not achieve statistical significance (n = 27; 25% vs 58%; p = 0.2).

CONCLUSIONS: The Ventilator Allocation Score can accurately identify patients with high rates of short-term mortality. However, these high mortality patients only represent 27% of all the patients who died, limiting the utility of the score for allocation of scarce resources. The score may unfairly prioritize older patients and inadvertently exacerbate racial health disparities through the inclusion of specific comorbidities such as end stage renal disease. Triage frameworks that include age should be considered. Purposeful efforts must be taken to ensure that triage protocols do not perpetuate or exacerbate prevailing inequities. Further work on the allocation of scarce resources in critical care settings would benefit from consensus on the primary ethical objective.

PMID:34136826 | PMC:PMC8202637 | DOI:10.1097/CCE.0000000000000455