As coronavirus cases grow, hospitals adopt a system to rank patients for treatment
(CNN)With the peak of Covid-19 infections still ahead and medical supplies still scarce, hospitals and physicians are gearing up for a nearly impossible challenge: deciding who gets a life-saving ventilator and who doesn't.
"Physicians who work in parts of the world that don't have adequate resources have had to make decisions like this maybe even on a routine basis, but physicians in the United States have never faced anything like this before," said Dr. Robert Truog, director of the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School. "It is going to be extremely difficult."
If the current rate of hospitalization and intubation continues in New York, "we have about six days" left of ventilators in the stockpile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during Thursday's coronavirus briefing.
"If a person comes in and needs a ventilator and you don't have a ventilator, the person dies. That's the blunt equation here," Cuomo said.
The demand for ventilators has skyrocketed in intensive care units across the country as coronavirus patients have flooded in. Typically, adult patients will stay in the ICU -- and on a ventilator -- for only three to four days, as one Connecticut doctor explained, but Covid-19 patients need them for up to two or three weeks, dramatically increasing demand.
Truog said he worked all weekend helping hospitals develop policies that determine who receives intensive care during a public health emergency. One of the better frameworks to follow, he said, is one developed by Dr. Douglas White, a professor of critical care medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UMPC).
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