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Open Access Research article

Regional variation in care at the end of life: discontinuation of dialysis

Charles E Gessert*, Irina V Haller and Brian P Johnson

Author Affiliations

Division of Research, Essentia Institute of Rural Health, 502 East 2nd Street, Duluth, MN, USA

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BMC Geriatrics 2013, 13:39  doi:10.1186/1471-2318-13-39

Published: 1 May 2013

Abstract

Background

Regional variation in the intensity of end-of-life care contributes significantly to the overall cost of health care. The interpretation of patterns of regional variation hinges, in part, on appropriate adjustment for regional variation in demographic variables such as age, race, sex, and rural vs. urban residence. This study examined regional variation in discontinuation of dialysis prior to death in the US, after adjustment for key demographic variables.

Methods

In this retrospective cohort study of the 2009 United States Renal Data System (USRDS) database we examined discontinuation of dialysis prior to death among deceased adult patients with end-stage renal disease (ESRD) from the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The discontinuation of dialysis prior to death was ascertained from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services form 2746 (ESRD Death Notification form). We used logistic regression to estimate the log-odds of discontinuation of dialysis with ESRD network as independent variable adjusted for urban–rural status, demographic and treatment variables.

Results

The study cohort included 715,605 deceased ESRD patients; for 176,021 of whom (24.6%) dialysis was discontinued prior to death. Dialysis was discontinued at higher rates for women than for men (26.3% vs. 23.0%, p < 0.001) and for whites than for blacks (29.5% vs. 14.7%, p < 0.001). Significant regional variation in dialysis discontinuation prior to death was noted after adjustment for age, race and rural–urban status: rates of discontinuation in the Upper Midwest and Mountain regions were more than double the rates in Southern and Coastal regions. This pattern parallels the regional pattern of end-of-life health service utilization documented in the Dartmouth Atlas and other studies.

Conclusions

Discontinuation of dialysis prior to death was common in the US between 1995 and 2009. The deaths of nearly one quarter of chronic dialysis patients followed a decision to discontinue dialysis. Significant regional variation in discontinuation rates exists after adjusting for age, race, sex, and rural–urban status. Further research and analysis is needed on the cultural and economic factors that affect regional variation in health services utilization, especially in regard to the use of expensive medical services near the end of life.

Keywords:
Regional variation; Dialysis; End-stage renal disease; End-of-life care