Increasing Nephrologist Awareness of Symptom Burden in Older Hospitalized End-Stage Renal Disease Patients

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Background: End-stage renal disease (ESRD) patients have significant symptom burden. Reduced provider awareness of symptoms contributes to underutilization of symptom management resources. Method: We hypothesized that improved nephrologist awareness of symptoms leads to symptom improvement. In this prospective, multicenter interventional study, 53 (age >65) ESRD inpatients underwent symptom assessment using the modified Edmonton Symptom Assessment System (ESAS) at admission and 1-week post-discharge. Physicians caring for the enrollees were asked if they felt their patients would die within the year, and then sequentially randomized to receive the results of the baseline survey (group 1) or to not receive the results (group 2). Results: Fifty-two patients completed the study; 1 died. Baseline characteristics were compared. For 70% of the total cohort, physicians reported that they would not be surprised if their patient died within a year. There was no difference in baseline scores of the patients between the 2 physician groups. Severity ratings were compared between in-hospital and post discharge scores and between physicians who received the results versus those that did not. Total ESAS scores improved more in group 1 (12.9) than in group 2 (9.2; p = 0.04). Among individual symptoms, there was greater improvement in pain control (p = 0.02), and nominal improvement in itching (p = 0.03) in group 1 as compared to group 2. There were 3 palliative care consults. Conclusions: Our findings reinforce the high symptom burden prevalent in older ESRD patients. The improvement in total scores, and individual symptoms of pain and itching in group 1 indicates better symptom control when physician awareness is increased. Residual symptoms post hospitalization and low utilization of palliative care resources are suggestive of a missed opportunity by nephrologists to address the high symptom burden at the inpatient encounter, which is selective for sick patients and/or indication of inadequacy of dialysis to control these symptoms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11-16
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican journal of nephrology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020


  • Charlson index
  • Edmonton symptom assessment system
  • Geriatric nephrology
  • Hemodialysis
  • Palliative care
  • Peritoneal dialysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nephrology

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