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Triage: The Ethical Allocation of Scarce Resources

"Triage" derives from the French verb trier, meaning "to sort". It was developed to characterize the sorting of things like coffee and wool based on their quality.

In modern medicine, triage refers to the practice of sorting patients to determine who is seen when or who gets access to what medical resource, be that a mechanical ventilator or a bed in the intensive care unit. In times of medical crisis, occasions can arise where there are insufficient resources to go around, and so healthcare providers must decide how to sort patients so as to do the most good with the limited resources at hand.

Fundamental to triage is the notion that the sorting and distribution must be fair. But there are ongoing debates about what fair actually means in those moments of crisis. Is it about saving the most lives? Helping those most in need? Prioritizing those patients who are most useful to society?

For over 15 years, Professor Tabery has advised hospital systems and state governments on how to allocate scarce medical resources fairly. This began at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in 2007 when avian influenza was a global scare (see publication on that work here), and it continued in Utah in 2020 when the COVID pandemic emerged (see publications on that work here, here, and here).

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