Treatment Decision Making for Older Kidney Patients during COVID-19

Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2022 Jul;17(7):957-965. doi: 10.2215/CJN.13241021. Epub 2022 Jun 7.


Background and objectives: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) disrupted medical care across health care settings for older patients with advanced CKD. Understanding how shared decision making for kidney treatment decisions was influenced by the uncertainty of an evolving pandemic can provide insights for supporting shared decision making through the current and future public health crises.

Design, setting, participants, & measurements: We performed thematic and narrative analyses of semistructured interviews with patients (CKD stages 4 and 5, age 70+), care partners, and clinicians from Boston, Portland (Maine), San Diego, and Chicago from August to December 2020.

Results: We interviewed 76 participants (39 patients, 17 care partners, and 20 clinicians). Among patient participants, 13 (33%) patients identified as Black, and seven (18%) had initiated dialysis. Four themes with corresponding subthemes emerged related to treatment decision making and the COVID-19 pandemic: (1) adapting to changed educational and patient engagement practices (patient barriers to care and new opportunities for telemedicine); (2) reconceptualizing vulnerability (clinician awareness of illness severity increased and limited discussions of patient COVID-19 vulnerability); (3) embracing home-based dialysis but not conservative management (openness to home-based modalities and limited discussion of conservative management and advanced care planning); and (4) satisfaction and safety with treatment decisions despite conditions of uncertainty.

Conclusions: Although clinicians perceived greater vulnerability among older patients CKD and more readily encouraged home-based modalities during the COVID-19 pandemic, their discussions of vulnerability, advance care planning, and conservative management remained limited, suggesting areas for improvement. Clinicians reported burnout caused by the pandemic, increased time demands, and workforce limitations, whereas patients remained satisfied with their treatment choices despite uncertainty.

Clinical trial registry name and registration number: Decision Aid for Renal Therapy (DART), NCT03522740.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; chronic kidney disease; decision making; qualitative research.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • COVID-19*
  • Decision Making
  • Humans
  • Kidney
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic* / therapy
  • Pandemics
  • Qualitative Research
  • Uncertainty

Associated data