Relying on capacity increases and patient transfers to deal with the huge and continuous inflow of COVID-19 critically ill patients is a strategy limited by finite human and logistical resources.
Prioritising both critical care initiation and continuation is paramount to save the greatest number of lives. It enables to allocate scarce resources in priority to those with the highest probability of benefiting from them. It is fully ethical provided it relies on objective and widely shared criteria, thus preventing arbitrary decisions and guaranteeing equity. Prioritisation seeks to fairly allocate treatments, maximise saved lives, gain indirect life benefits from prioritising exposed healthcare and similar workers, give priority to those most penalised as a last resort, and apply similar prioritisation schemes to all patients.
Prioritisation schemes and their criteria are adjusted to the level of resource scarcity: strain (level A) or saturation (level B). Prioritisation yields a four level priority for initiation or continuation of critical care: P1–high priority, P2–intermediate priority, P3–not needed, P4–not appropriate. Prioritisation schemes take into account the patient's wishes, clinical frailty, pre-existing chronic condition, along with severity and evolution of acute condition. Initial priority level must be reassessed, at least after 48h once missing decision elements are available, at the typical turning point in the disease's natural history (ICU days 7 to 10 for COVID-19), and each time resource scarcity levels change. For treatments to be withheld or withdrawn, a collegial decision-making process and information of patient and/or next of kin are paramount.
Prioritisation strategy is bound to evolve with new knowledge and with changes within the epidemiological situation.Le texte complet de cet article est disponible en PDF.
Keywords : COVID-19, Pandemic, Critical care, Ethics, Prioritisation, Triage
|☆|| French Society of Anaesthesia and Critical Care (SFAR)–Ethics committee.
|☆☆|| French military medical service (SSA)–Val-de-Grâce military medical academy, chair of anaesthesia, critical care and emergency medicine.