The early history of dialysis for chronic renal failure in the United States: a view from Seattle

Am J Kidney Dis. 2007 Mar;49(3):482-96. doi: 10.1053/j.ajkd.2007.01.017.


Forty-seven years have passed since the first patient started treatment for chronic renal failure by repeated hemodialysis (HD) at the University of Washington Hospital in Seattle in March 1960, and some 34 years have elapsed since the United States Congress passed legislation creating the Medicare End-Stage Renal Disease Program. Many nephrologists practicing today are unfamiliar with the history of the clinical and political developments that occurred during the 13 years between these 2 dates and that led to dialysis as we know it today in this country. This review briefly describes these events. Clinical developments following introduction of the Teflon shunt by Belding Scribner and Wayne Quinton included empirical observations leading to better understanding of HD and patient management, out-of-hospital dialysis by nurses, bioethical discussions of the problems of patient selection, home HD, improved dialysis technology, intermittent peritoneal dialysis, including automated equipment for home use and an effective peritoneal access catheter, the arteriovenous fistula for more reliable blood access, dialyzer reuse, the first for-profit dialysis units, understanding of many of the complications of treatment, the first considerations of dialysis adequacy, early development of other technologies, and more frequent HD. Political developments began less than 3 years after the first Seattle patient began dialysis, but it took another 10 years of intermittent activities before Congress acted on legislation to provide almost universal Medicare entitlement to patients with chronic kidney disease requiring dialysis or kidney transplantation.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Health Policy*
  • History, 20th Century
  • Hospitals, University
  • Humans
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / economics
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / therapy*
  • Medicare / economics
  • Medicare / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Politics
  • Renal Dialysis / economics
  • Renal Dialysis / history*
  • United States
  • Washington