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J Am Soc Nephrol. 1999 Jun;10(6):1281-6.

Prevalence, predictors, and consequences of late nephrology referral at a tertiary care center.

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  • 1Division of Nephrology, New England Medical Center, Boston, MA 02111, USA.


Despite improvements in dialysis care, mortality of patients with end-stage renal disease (ESRD) remains high. One factor that has thus far received little attention, but might contribute to morbidity and mortality, is the timing of referral to the nephrologist. This study examines the hypothesis that late referral of patients to the nephrologist might lead to suboptimal pre-ESRD care. Clinical and laboratory data were obtained from the patient records and electronic databases of New England Medical Center, its affiliated dialysis unit (Dialysis Clinics, Inc., Boston), and the office records of the outpatient nephrology clinic. Early (ER) and late (LR) referral were defined by the time of first nephrology encounter greater than or less than 4 mo, respectively, before initiation of dialysis. Multivariate models were built to explore factors associated with LR, and whether LR is associated with hypoalbuminemia or late initiation of dialysis. Of the 135 patients, 30 (22%) were referred late. There were no differences in age, gender, race, and cause of ESRD between ER and LR patients. However, there were significant differences in insurance coverage between these two groups. In the multivariate analysis, patients covered by health maintenance organizations were more likely to be referred late (odds ratio = 4.5) than patients covered by Medicare. Compared to ER, LR patients were more likely to have hypoalbuminemia (56% versus 80%), hematocrit <28% (33% versus 55%), and predicted GFR <5 ml/min per 1.73 m2 (17% versus 40%) at the start of dialysis, and less likely to have received erythropoietin (40% versus 17%) or have a functioning permanent vascular access for the first hemodialysis (40% versus 4%). It is concluded that late referral to the nephrologist is common in the United States and is associated with poor pre-ESRD care. Pre-ESRD care of patients treated by nephrologists was also less than ideal. The patient-, physician-, and system-related factors behind this observation are unclear. Meanwhile, pre-ESRD educational efforts need to target patients, generalists, and nephrologists.

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