Equitable protocols to triage life-saving resources must be specified prior to shortages in order to promote transparency, trust and consistency. How well proposed utilitarian protocols perform to maximize lives saved is unknown. We aimed to estimate the survival rates that would be associated with implementation of the New York State 2015 guidelines for ventilator triage, and to compare them to a first-come-first-served triage method.
We constructed a simulation model based on a modified version of the New York State 2015 guidelines compared to a first-come-first-served method under various hypothetical ventilator shortages. We included patients with SARs-CoV-2 infection admitted with respiratory failure requiring mechanical ventilation to three acute care hospitals in New York from 3/01/2020 and 5/27/2020. We estimated (1) survival rates, (2) number of excess deaths, (3) number of patients extubated early or not allocated a ventilator due to capacity constraints, (4) survival rates among patients not allocated a ventilator at triage or extubated early due to capacity constraints.
807 patients were included in the study. The simulation model based on a modified New York State policy did not decrease mortality, excess death or exclusion from ventilators compared to the first-come-first-served policy at every ventilator capacity we tested using COVID-19 surge cohort patients. Survival rates were similar at all the survival probabilities estimated. At the lowest ventilator capacity, the modified New York State policy has an estimated survival of 28.5% (CI: 28.4-28.6), compared to 28.1% (CI: 27.7-28.5) for the first-come-first-served policy.
This simulation of a modified New York State guideline-based triage protocol revealed limitations in achieving the utilitarian goals these protocols are designed to fulfill. Quantifying these outcomes can inform a better balance among competing moral aims.