Background: In an attempt to reduce late referral and to improve the care of patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD), different organizations have issued guidelines on when to refer patients to the nephrologist. Most suggest referral of patients with a GFR below 60 ml/min/1.73 m2, and demand referral if the GFR is below 30 ml/min/1.73 m2. It is recommended to use the abbreviated MDRD equation to estimate GFR. This formula is, however, sensitive to the creatinine assay methodology. In addition, the impact of the implementation of such guidelines on the nephrology practice has never been evaluated. This study (i) identifies the true burden of CKD in a population and simulates the effects of a 100% implementation of the guidelines on the nephrology work load, and (ii) evaluates the validity of the estimated GFR using the abbreviated MDRD formula when routinely provided.
Methods: Different laboratories (both hospital and private) in our region were asked to report on all the serum creatinine values performed during the first week of December 2004. If patients had more than one determination, only the lowest serum creatinine value was retained. Patients already known to a nephrology unit were not included. GFR was calculated using the abbreviated MDRD, using the serum creatinine as reported by these laboratories, or after correction to the MDRD-standard using different published equations.
Results: 20,108 patients, with a mean age of 53.4+/-16.2 years, 48% females, had at least one serum creatinine determination in the observation period. According to the K/DOQI CKD classification, 20.2, 1.6 and 0.8% of females and 13.3, 1.6 and 0.6% of males were in stage 3, 4 and 5, respectively, when the abbreviated MDRD formula was used with the serum creatinine value as reported by the laboratories. Important differences in classifications were obtained when the different correction formulae for creatinine were applied. According to the current recommendations, this would lead to a mandatory referral of 1650-2400 CKD stage 4 patients per 100 000 inhabitants and a suggested referral of another 4100-15 360 CKD stage 3 patients per 100,000 inhabitants to a nephrology unit.
Conclusion: Implementation of the current guidelines for referral of CKD patients to nephrologists would lead to an overload of the nephrology care capacities. Large differences in estimated GFRs with different corrections for serum creatinine are observed, resulting in important CKD classification differences. Standardization of serum creatinine assays is mandatory before guidelines, and especially the routine provision of the estimated GFR by the abbreviated MDRD formula, can be implemented in clinical practice.