Dividing COVID-19 patients into 4 groups may make a better use of resources

COVID-19 is a viral respiratory infection that affects people in many different ways. Most people feel just minor symptoms and get better without extensive treatment. Meanwhile some experience very difficult symptoms that can persist for weeks and some even die. It is important to differentiate people into different groups and now scientists from Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool and Imperial College London say that COVID-19 patients in hospitals can be divided into four distinct groups.

An illustration of SARS-CoV-2 – virus that causes COVID-19 disease. Image credit: NIH Image Gallery via Wikimedia

Researchers used data from some 35,000 patients admitted to hospital between February and May 2020 and created a COVID-19 risk identification tool. This tool takes into account age, sex, the number of pre-existing conditions, respiratory rate on admission, and the results of two blood tests. This allows dividing patients into four groups – low-risk, intermediate-risk, high-risk and very high-risk. This allows doctors to assign the most appropriate treatment for patients from different risk groups. For example, since just one in every hundred patients in the low-risk group is at a risk of death, maybe patients from this group can be treated at home.

It is not the first time that scientists are trying to create a tool like that. Just that previous attempts have failed due to small data samples. This new tool is much better than previous attempts, but, obviously, has its own unique limitations. For example, it can only be used in a hospital setting – it cannot be applied in communities.

Professor Ewen Harrison, senior author of the study, said: “As doctors, we want to identify groups of patients most at risk of dying from Covid-19. If we can do that at the front door of the hospital, then treatment can be better planned. This easy-to-use tool will help doctors make decisions to provide patients with the optimal care.”

Why is it so important to divide patients into groups according to their risk factors? There aren’t enough resources – that’s why! As winter sets in, we are likely to see a huge spike in COVID-19 cases. And hospitals will be full again. It is important that those people who need urgent help get it immediately. Doctors cannot attend to everyone, especially knowing that there is not cure for this terrible disease. And so low-risk patients can be treated at home while hospitals should focus on those that are facing death if they don’t get better.

COVID-19 is our new reality. It is here to stay, but we have to learn our lessons. The spring outbreak was relatively well-controlled. Information gathered that time has to be used to address the oncoming autumn-winter outbreak.


Source: University of Glasgow

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