Outcomes and Cost-Effectiveness of Initiating Dialysis and Continuing Aggressive Care in Seriously Ill Hospitalized Adults

Published In: Annals of Internal Medicine, v. 127, no. 3, Aug. 1, 1997, p. 195-202

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 1997

by Mary Beth Hamel, Russell S. Phillips, Roger B. Davis, Norman A. Desbiens, Alfred F. Connors, Jr., Joan M. Teno, Neil S. Wenger, Joanne Lynn, Albert W. Wu, William Fulkerson, et al.

BACKGROUND: Renal failure requiring dialysis in the setting of hospitalization for serious illness is a poor prognostic sign, and dialysis and aggressive care are sometimes withheld. OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the clinical outcomes and cost-effectiveness of initiating dialysis and continuing aggressive care for seriously ill hospitalized patients. DESIGN: Prospective cohort study and cost-effectiveness analysis. SETTING: Five geographically diverse teaching hospitals. PATIENTS: 490 patients (median age, 61 years; 58% women) enrolled in the Study to Understand Prognoses and Preferences for Outcomes and Risks of Treatments (SUPPORT) in whom dialysis was initiated. MEASUREMENTS: Survival, functional status, quality of life, and health care costs. Life expectancy was estimated by extrapolating survival data (up to 4.4 years of follow-up) using a declining exponential function. Utilities (quality-of-life weights) were estimated by using time-tradeoff questions. Costs were based on data from SUPPORT and published Medicare data. RESULTS: Median duration of survival was 32 days, and only 27% of patients were alive after 5 months. Survivors reported a median of one dependency in activities of daily living, and 62% rated their quality of life as good or better. Overall, the estimated cost per quality-adjusted life-year saved by initiating dialysis and continuing aggressive care rather than withholding dialysis and allowing death to occur was $128,200. For the 103 patients in the worst prognostic category, the estimated cost per quality-adjusted life-year was $274,100; for the 94 patients in the best prognostic category, the cost per quality-adjusted life-year was $61,900. CONCLUSIONS: For the few patients who survived, clinical outcomes were fairly good. With the exception of patients with the best prognoses, however, the cost-effectiveness of initiating dialysis and continuing aggressive care far exceeded $50,000 per quality-adjusted life-year, a commonly cited threshold for cost-effective care.

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