Background: Vascular access morbidity results in suboptimal patient outcomes and costs more than $8000 per patient-year at risk, representing approximately 15% of total Medicare expenditures for ESRD patients annually. In recent years, the rate of access thrombosis has improved following the advent of vascular access blood flow monitoring (VABFM) programs to identify and treat stenosis prior to thrombosis. To define further both the clinical and financial impact of such programs, we used the ultrasound dilution method to study the effects of VABFM on thrombosis-related morbid events and associated costs, compared with both dynamic venous pressure monitoring (DVPM) and no monitoring (NM) in arteriovenous fistulas (AVF) and grafts.
Methods: A total of 132 chronic hemodialysis patients were followed prospectively for three consecutive study phases (I, 11 months of NM; II, 12 months of DVPM; III, 10 months of VABFM). All vascular access-related information (thrombosis rate, hospitalization, angiogram, angioplasty, access surgery, thrombectomy, catheter placement, missed treatments) was collected during the three study periods.
Results: During the three study phases, graft thrombosis rate was reduced from 0.71 (phase I), to 0.67 (phase II), to 0.16 (phase III) events per patient-year at risk (P < 0.001 phase III vs. phases I and II). Similarly, hospital days, missed treatments, and catheter use related to thrombotic events were significantly reduced during phase III compared to phases I and II. Hospital days related to vascular access morbidity and adjusted for patient-year at risk were 1.8, 1.6, and 0.4 and missed dialysis treatments were 0.98, 0.86, and 0.26 treatments per patient-year at risk for phases I, II, and III, respectively (P < 0.001 for phase III vs. phases I and II). Catheter use was also significantly reduced during phases II and III, from 0.29 (phase I) to 0.17 and further to 0.07 catheters per patient-year at risk, respectively (P < 0.05 for phase III vs. phase I). Percutaneous angioplasty procedures increased during phases II and III from 0.09 to 0.32 to 0.54 procedures per patient-year at risk for phases I, II, and III, respectively (P < 0.01 for phase III vs. phase I). When the total cost of treatment for thrombosis-related events for grafts was estimated, it was found that during phase III, the adjusted yearly billed amount was reduced by 49% versus phase I and 54% versus phase II to $158,550. Similar trends in reduced thrombosis-related morbid events and cost were observed for AVFs.
Conclusions: VABFM for early detection of vascular access malfunction coupled with preventive intervention reduces thrombosis rates in both polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) grafts and native AVFs. While there was a significant increase in the number of angioplasties done during the flow monitoring phase, the comprehensive cost is markedly reduced due to the decreased number of hospitalizations, catheters placed, missed treatments, and surgical interventions. Vascular access blood flow monitoring along with preventive interventions should be the standard of care in chronic hemodialysis patients.