Importance: Persons with kidney failure require treatment (ie, dialysis or transplantation) for survival. The burden of the COVID-19 pandemic and pandemic-related disruptions in care have disproportionately affected racial and ethnic minority and socially disadvantaged populations, raising the importance of understanding disparities in treatment initiation for kidney failure during the pandemic.
Objective: To examine changes in the number and demographic characteristics of patients initiating treatment for incident kidney failure following the COVID-19 pandemic by race and ethnicity, county-level COVID-19 mortality rate, and neighborhood-level social disadvantage.
Design, setting, and participants: This cross-sectional time-trend study used data from US patients who developed kidney failure between January 1, 2018, and June 30, 2020. Data were analyzed between January and July 2021.
Exposures: COVID-19 pandemic.
Main outcomes and measures: Number of patients initiating treatment for incident kidney failure and mean estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) at treatment initiation.
Results: The study population included 127 149 patients with incident kidney failure between January 1, 2018, and June 30, 2020 (mean [SD] age, 62.8 [15.3] years; 53 021 [41.7%] female, 32 932 [25.9%] non-Hispanic Black, and 19 835 [15.6%] Hispanic/Latino patients). Compared with the pre-COVID-19 period, in the first 4 months of the pandemic (ie, March 1 through June 30, 2020), there were significant decreases in the proportion of patients with incident kidney failure receiving preemptive transplantation (1805 [2.1%] pre-COVID-19 vs 551 [1.4%] during COVID-19; P < .001) and initiating hemodialysis treatment with an arteriovenous fistula (2430 [15.8%] pre-COVID-19 vs 914 [13.4%] during COVID-19; P < .001). The mean (SD) eGFR at initiation declined from 9.6 (5.0) mL/min/1.73 m2 to 9.5 (4.9) mL/min/1.73 m2 during the pandemic (P < .001). In stratified analyses by race/ethnicity, these declines were exclusively observed among non-Hispanic Black patients (mean [SD] eGFR: 8.4 [4.6] mL/min/1.73 m2 pre-COVID-19 vs 8.1 [4.5] mL/min/1.73 m2 during COVID-19; P < .001). There were significant declines in eGFR at initiation for patients residing in counties in the highest quintile of COVID-19 mortality rates (9.5 [5.0] mL/min/1.73 m2 pre-COVID-19 vs 9.2 [5.0] mL/min/1.73 m2 during COVID-19; P < .001), but not for patients residing in other counties. The number of patients initiating treatment for incident kidney failure was approximately 30% lower than projected in April 2020.
Conclusions and relevance: In this cross-sectional study of US adults, the COVID-19 pandemic was associated with a substantially lower number of patients initiating treatment for incident kidney failure and treatment initiation at lower levels of kidney function during the first 4 months, particularly for Black patients and people living in counties with high COVID-19 mortality rates.