Medication Burden and Prescribing Patterns in Patients on Hemodialysis in the USA, 2013-2017

Am J Nephrol. 2021;52(12):919-928. doi: 10.1159/000520028. Epub 2021 Nov 23.


Introduction: The medication burden of patients with end-stage renal disease (ESRD) on hemodialysis, a patient population with a high comorbidity burden and complex care requirements, is among the highest of any of the chronic diseases. The goal of this study was to describe the medication burden and prescribing patterns in a contemporary cohort of patients with ESRD on hemodialysis in the USA.

Methods: We used the United States Renal Data System database from January 1, 2013, and December 31, 2017, to quantify the medication burden of patients with ESRD on hemodialysis aged ≥18 years. We calculated the average number of prescription medications per patient during each respective year (January-December), number of medications within classes, including potentially harmful medications, and trends in the number of medications and classes over the 5-year study period.

Results: We included a total of 163,228 to 176,133 patients from 2013 to 2017. The overall medication burden decreased slightly, from a mean of 7.4 (SD 3.8) medications in 2013 to 6.8 (SD 3.6) medications in 2017. Prescribing of potentially harmful medications decreased over time (74.0% with at least one harmful medication class in 2013-68.5% in 2017). In particular, the prescribing of non-benzodiazepine hypnotics, benzodiazepines, and opioids decreased from 2013 to 2017 (12.2%-6.3%, 23.4%-19.3%, and 60.0%-53.4%, respectively). This trend was consistent across subgroups of age, sex, race, and low-income subsidy status.

Conclusions: Patients with ESRD on hemodialysis continued to have a high overall medication burden, with a slight reduction over time accompanied by a decrease in prescribing of several classes of harmful medications. Continued emphasis on assessment of appropriateness of high medication burden in patients with ESRD is needed to avoid exposure to potentially harmful or futile medications in this patient population.

Keywords: End-stage kidney disease; End-stage renal disease; Hemodialysis; Medication burden; Prescribing patterns; United States Renal Data System.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / therapy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Polypharmacy / statistics & numerical data*
  • Renal Dialysis*
  • Time Factors
  • United States
  • Young Adult