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

Charles E. Gessert, Irina V. Haller, Brian P. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number39
JournalBMC Geriatrics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The study was funded through a grant from the Essentia Health Foundation, Duluth, MN. The funding body did not have any role in the interpretation of the data, the writing of this manuscript, or the decision to submit the manuscript for publication.


  • Dialysis
  • End-of-life care
  • End-stage renal disease
  • Regional variation


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