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The impact of resource limitations on care delivery and outcomes: routine variation, the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, and persistent shortage

Current Opinion in Critical Care October 1, 2021

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Research Areas


PURPOSE OF REVIEW: Resource limitation, or capacity strain, has been associated with changes in care delivery, and in some cases, poorer outcomes among critically ill patients. This may result from normal variation in strain on available resources, chronic strain in persistently under-resourced settings, and less commonly because of acute surges in demand, as seen during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

RECENT FINDINGS: Recent studies confirmed existing evidence that high ICU strain is associated with ICU triage decisions, and that ICU strain may be associated with ICU patient mortality. Studies also demonstrated earlier discharge of ICU patients during high strain, suggesting that strain may promote patient flow efficiency. Several studies of strain resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic provided support for the concept of adaptability – that the surge not only caused detrimental strain but also provided experience with a novel disease entity such that outcomes improved over time. Chronically resource-limited settings faced even more challenging circumstances because of acute-on-chronic strain during the pandemic.

SUMMARY: The interaction between resource limitation and care delivery and outcomes is complex and incompletely understood. The COVID-19 pandemic provides a learning opportunity for strain response during both pandemic and nonpandemic times.


National Heart, Lung,and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
Agency for health Reseearch and Quality (AHRQ)