Referral and Beyond: Restructuring the Kidney Transplant Process to Support Greater Access in the United States

Am J Kidney Dis. 2024 Apr 24:S0272-6386(24)00743-1. doi: 10.1053/j.ajkd.2024.03.017. Online ahead of print.


Advocates for improved equity in kidney transplants in the United States have recently focused their efforts on initiatives to increase referral for transplant evaluation. However, because donor kidneys remain scarce, increased referrals are likely to result in an increasing number of patients proceeding through the evaluation process without ultimately receiving a kidney. Unfortunately, the process of referral and evaluation can be highly resource-intensive for patients, families, transplant programs, and payers. Patients and families may incur out-of-pocket expenses and be required to complete testing and treatments that they might not have chosen in the course of routine clinical care. Kidney transplant programs may struggle with insufficient capacity, inefficient workflow, and challenging programmatic finances, and payers will need to absorb the increased expenses of upfront pretransplant costs. Increased referral in isolation may risk simply transmitting system stress and resulting disparities to downstream processes in this complex system. We argue that success in efforts to improve access through increased referrals hinges on adaptations to the pretransplant process more broadly. We call for an urgent re-evaluation and redesign at multiple levels of the pretransplant system in order to achieve the aim of equitable access to kidney transplantation for all patients with kidney failure.

Keywords: Equity; kidney transplantation.