Most dialysis patients with end-stage kidney disease (ESKD) lack access to palliative care services. According to the data of the Dialysis Outcomes and Practice Study (DOPPS), Italy when compared to other countries included in the study, had the lowest rates of dialysis discontinuation. Indeed, there is a growing interest in the implementation of international and national programs for the co-management between nephrology and palliative care in end-of-life decision-making for patients with ESKD. On behalf of this, since 2017, we started in the nephrology outpatient clinic and hemodialysis facilities of the Provincia Autonoma of Trento a shared program between Nephrology and Palliative Care Units to improve the end-of-life quality of care in ESKD patients in conservative and dialytic therapy.
Methods: A retrospective analysis, from the 1st of January 2019 to 31st December 2021, of dialysis withdrawal in a cohort of patients undergoing hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis.
Results: Dialysis withdrawal and subsequent death, according to the integrated protocol with the Palliative Care resources, were 24 in 2019, 20 in 2020, and 28 in 2021. The mean age was 75 years in 2019, 78 years in 2020, and in 2021. Most of the patients were male. Dialysis discontinuation was higher in chronic dialysis patients (80% in 2019 and 2020, and 79% in 2021), and considering the annual rates of death of all the dialysis patients, those who died because of dialysis withdrawal were 38% in 2019, 31% in 2020 and 40% in 2021. Survival after dialysis withdrawal was in most of the cases less than 7 days; only few patients lived more than 30 days. Furthermore, the data, in the 3 years considered, showed a reduction of hospitalization and an increase of the rate of death at home.
Conclusions: As described in the present study, strategies to expand palliative care by a shared protocol among nephrology and palliative care staff improved the quality of care in the end of life and reduced the hospitalization rates of admission of patients after dialysis withdrawal.
Keywords: Dialysis withdrawal, shared end-of-life management, palliative care