Original Investigation |

Relationship Between the Prognostic Expectations of Seriously Ill Patients Undergoing Hemodialysis and Their Nephrologists

Melissa W. Wachterman, MD, MPH, MSc1,3,5; Edward R. Marcantonio, MD, SM1; Roger B. Davis, ScD1; Robert A. Cohen, MD, MSc2; Sushrut S. Waikar, MD, MPH4; Russell S. Phillips, MD1; Ellen P. McCarthy, PhD, MPH1
[+] Author Affiliations
1Division of General Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts
2Division of Nephrology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts
3Section of General Internal Medicine, Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System, Boston, Massachusetts
4Division of Renal Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts
5School of Nursing, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(13):1206-1214. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.6036.
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Importance  Patients undergoing hemodialysis have an annual mortality rate exceeding 20%, comparable to many types of cancer. Past research has shown that patients with cancer overestimate their likelihood of survival relative to their physicians, but this relationship has not been examined in patients with noncancer diagnoses. Perceptions of prognosis and transplant candidacy may influence goals of care.

Objectives  To compare the perceptions of hemodialysis patients and their nephrologists concerning prognosis and the likelihood of transplant; to follow actual survival; and to explore the relationship between patients’ expectations and their goals of care.

Design  We completed a medical record abstraction to estimate 1-year mortality risk among patients who underwent dialysis at any time from November 1, 2010, through September 1, 2011. We then conducted in-person interviews with eligible patients whose predicted 1-year mortality, based on validated prognostic tools, was at least 20%. We also interviewed their nephrologists. We compared patients’ and physicians’ expectations about 1- and 5-year survival and transplant candidacy and measured the association between patients’ expectations and goals of care. We then followed actual survival using Kaplan-Meier methods.

Setting and Participants  Two dialysis units in Boston. Two hundred seven patients undergoing hemodialysis included in the medical record review, with 62 eligible patients interviewed.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Predicted 1-year mortality risk using validated prognostic tools; actual survival; patients’ and physicians’ expectations about 1-year survival and likelihood of transplant; and patients’ goals of care.

Results  Of the 207 hemodialysis patients, 72.5% had a predicted 1-year mortality of at least 20%. Of the 80 patients eligible for interview, 62 participated (response rate, 78%). Patients were significantly more optimistic than their nephrologists about 1- and 5-year survival (P < .001 for both) and were more likely to think they were transplant candidates (37 [66%] vs 22 [39%] [P = .008]). Of the 81% of patients reporting a 90% chance or greater of being alive at 1 year, 18 (44%) preferred care focused on extending life, even if it meant more discomfort, compared with 1 (9%) among patients reporting a lower chance of survival (P = .045). Actual survival was 93% at 1 year but decreased to 79% by 17 months and 56% by 23 months.

Conclusions and Relevance  Hemodialysis patients are more optimistic about prognosis and transplant candidacy than their nephrologists. In our sample, patients’ expectations about 1-year survival were more accurate than those of their nephrologists, but their longer-term survival expectations dramatically overestimated even their 2-year survival rates. Patients’ prognostic expectations are associated with their treatment preferences. Our findings suggest the need for interventions to help providers communicate effectively with patients about prognosis.

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Study Flow Diagram

aThe surprise question asks, “Would you be surprised if this patient died in the next 6 months?” bIncludes transplant, transition to peritoneal dialysis, or death before being approached to participate in the interview; refusal of the physician to allow participation; and failure to interview the patient despite 3 attempts to approach him or her (typically owing to hospitalization or consistently sleeping during dialysis).

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