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ICU triage: The potential legal liability of withdrawing ICU care during a catastrophic event

Darren P. Mareiniss, MD, JD, Frederick Levy, MD, JD, Linda Regan, MD

Abstract


In the event of a catastrophic disaster, healthcare resources may be completely overwhelmed. To address this, the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has recommended using “crisis standards of care” during such an event.These standards would recommend allocating scarce medical resources to do the greatest good for the greatest number of patients.
In a dire catastrophic event, such standards may include the allocation of intensive care unit (ICU) resources to maximize patient survival.Triage protocols that seek to efficiently allocate ICU resources during a disaster have been reviewed by the Institute of Medicine. Such protocols suggest the exclusion of patients with high mortality or high resource requirements from ICU care to do the most good for the greatest number of patients. In extreme circumstances, these protocols recommend withdrawing ICU resources from sicker patients in favor of more salvageable patients.
However, if providers were to follow the earlier protocols in a disaster and withdraw and reallocate ICU care, criminal or civil liability could result. Two legal solutions to avoid this potential for liability have been suggested in this article.


Keywords


disaster medicine, triage, ICU, liability

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References


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5055/ajdm.2011.0072

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