For the 30 million Americans living with some form of kidney disease, the current COVID-19 pandemic brings a host of additional challenges not faced by the general population—like a greater risk of developing serious complications if they contract the virus. And for the 500,000 Americans with kidney failure who rely on dialysis treatments to stay alive, these challenges only multiply. Do they follow “stay-at-home” orders and skip their dialysis treatments, or do they risk exposure by going to a dialysis clinic where social distancing is difficult, if not impossible, to enforce? Either decision could have life-threatening consequences.
And what about the procedures to create and maintain the necessary access to their bloodstream that makes dialysis possible? In mid-March, the CMS deemed these procedures “non-essential,” leading to a host of cancelled appointments and operations. Even when CMS reversed its decision days later, the confusion that resulted from the chaos left many physicians, hospitals and patients unsure of which path to follow.
Fortunately, the kidney care community has stepped up and been vocal about what it’s doing—and what still needs to be done—to help these vulnerable patients.
Dr. Ari Kramer, a vascular surgeon in Spartanburg, South Carolina, writes in the Spartanburg Herald-Journal about what his hospital and healthcare community at large has done both before and during this healthcare crisis to meet the needs of dialysis patients. From investing in innovative technologies to designating certain dialysis clinics strictly for COVID-19 patients, Dr. Kramer shows how communities can work together to reduce the strain on their local hospitals — “without failing to meet the needs of some of our most vulnerable community members.”
In The Washington Examiner, kidney patient advocate Terry Litchfield writes about the unique challenges facing kidney patients in this current environment and shares her advice for both patients and healthcare providers to address these issues. She directs them to patient organizations like the American Association for Kidney Patients (AAKP), which are holding webinars and issuing alerts to keep patients informed and engaged as the pandemic continues.
While realistic about the magnitude of the crisis, Ms. Litchfield is nonetheless “hold[ing] out hope that we’ll not only survive, but that the steps we take…will create a better, safer future for those suffering from end-stage renal disease.”
As CMS and the country begin opening healthcare to non-emergency services and as COVID-19 survivors with kidney failure add to the number of patients on dialysis, Litchfield urges that efforts in these areas protect the vulnerable older Americans on dialysis. Moving forward, the healthcare community must also re-focus efforts on Advancing American Kidney Health and fostering more innovative solutions, home dialysis and transplants along with primary prevention of kidney failure for future generations.
View the latest AAKP HealthLine Webinar:
Taking Care of Your Dialysis Access During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Dr. Ari Kramer, Terry Litchfield and nephrologist Dr. Gerald A. Beathard discuss:
- Access care tips
- What kidney patients should do if they need care
- Tips for taking care of loved ones with kidney disease