Racial and ethnic disparities exist in palliative care use among hospitalized patients with ESKD

Striking racial and ethnic disparities exist in the use of palliative care by hospitalized patients with end-stage kidney disease (ESKD) on dialysis, researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai report. The findings were published today in Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

Palliative care is team-based care focused on improving quality of life and reducing suffering for people with serious illness and their families. Palliative care-;which better aligns medical treatments with patients' goals and wishes, aggressively treats distressing symptoms, and improves care coordination-;is associated with shorter hospital stays and lower costs, according to research published in 2018 by scientists at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

To investigate palliative care use, the researchers conducted a retrospective cohort study using the National Inpatient Sample (NIS) from 2006 to 2014, which affords a large pool of minority (black, Hispanic, and Asian) and white patients. The NIS database is the largest, publicly available, all-payer inpatient database in the United States. While the researchers found a clear increase in palliative care utilization for all inpatients with ESKD, they also identified significant variations among minorities compared to white patients which persisted across all hospital subtypes, even hospitals that serve a large proportion of minority patients.

Among the 5,230,865 patients hospitalized during the study period, the palliative care referral rate increased from 0.24 percent in 2006 to 2.7 percent in 2014 among hospitalized patients with ESKD on dialysis. This increasing trend was evident across all racial and ethnic groups; however, white patients had the fastest increase in palliative care utilization, further widening the difference in utilization from that of minorities and resulting in a pronounced divide in 2014: 1.1 percent in black and Hispanic patients versus 2.1 percent in white patients.

The researchers note that the reasons for the disparities are complex and multifactorial. "One of the unique findings of the study includes the finding that even when minority patients were admitted to hospitals that treat a higher volume of minority patients, they were still less likely to receive palliative care than white patients. Further investigation into the causes of racial disparities is necessary to better understand the systemic issues contributing to barriers to palliative care services in the vulnerable end-stage kidney disease population."

These are striking findings in light of the high mortality rate and high burden of severe symptoms that patients with ESKD experience such as anorexia, pruritus, dyspnea, and depression. Evidence suggests that sympom-focused palliative care can effectively alleviate these debilitating sympoms."

Principal investigator Girish Nadkarni, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine (Nephrology), Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Clinical Director of the Charles Bronfman Institute of Personalized Medicine, also at Mount Sinai

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