Prioritizing patients for elective surgery: a systematic review


  • A. D. MacCormick MBChB; W. G. Collecutt BHB; B. R. Parry MD, FRACS.

Dr A. D. MacCormick, Division of Surgery, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand.


Background:  Priority scoring tools are mooted as means for dealing with burgeoning elective surgical waiting lists. There is ongoing development work in New Zealand, Canada and the UK. This emerging international perspective is invaluable in determining the application of these tools and addressing any pitfalls.

Methods:  A systematic electronic literature review was performed. Information was also retrieved using a search of reference lists of all papers included in the review and contact with those who were involved in the development of such criteria.

Results:  The ethical basis of prioritization differed among priority scoring tools and in a number was not stated. The majority of tools covered criteria for specific procedures. Delphi consensus methods and regression were the predominant methods for ­deter­mining ­specific criteria. Authors’ opinions were the main source of generic criteria. Linear and non-linear models or matrices sum­mated criteria.

Conclusion:  There is debate over the ethical basis for prioritization. It is a concern that it is not addressed in many studies. The development of generic criteria showed a dearth of consensus approaches that represents a significant gap in our knowledge. On the aspects of summation and weighting, the impact of assumptions on the prioritization of patients may not have been fully explored.