Article Text

Who should get the scarce ICU bed? The US public’s view on triage in the time of COVID-19


Objective To determine the relative importance members of the US public place on different patient attributes in triage decisions about who should receive the last available intensive care unit (ICU) bed.

Methods A discrete choice experiment was conducted with a nationally representative sample of 2000 respondents from the YouGov internet panel of US households. Respondents chose which of three hypothetical patients with COVID-19 should receive an ICU bed if only one were available. The three patients differed in age, gender, Alzheimer’s-like disability and probability of survival if the patient received the ICU bed. An experimental design varied the values of the four attributes of the three hypothetical patients with COVID-19 that a respondent saw in four choice tasks.

Results The most important patient attribute to respondents was the probability the patient survives COVID-19 if they get the ICU bed (OR CI: 4.41 to 6.91). There was heterogeneity among different age groups of respondents about how much age of the patient mattered. Respondents under 30 years of age were more likely to choose young patients and old patients, and less likely to select patients aged 40–60 years old. For respondents in the age group 30–49 years old, as the age of the patient declined, their preference for saving the patient declined modestly in a linear fashion.

Conclusions Respondents favoured giving the last ICU bed available to the patient with the highest probability of surviving COVID-19. Public opinion suggests a simple guideline for physician choices based on likelihood of survival as opposed to the number of life-years saved. There was heterogeneity among respondents of different age groups for allocating the last ICU bed, as well as to the importance of the patient having an Alzheimer’s-like disability (where religion of the respondent is important) and the gender of the patient (where the gender and racial identity are important).

  • COVID-19
  • triage

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request. Data are available from the authors upon request.

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