One number alone should be enough for hospitalists to want to know everything they can about kidney disease: 26 million. It’s the number of Americans that the National Kidney Foundation estimates to have chronic kidney disease (CKD). That’s about the same number as the American Diabetes Association’s estimate for Americans battling diabetes.
And a lot of people who have CKD don’t even know they have it, kidney specialists warn, making it that much more important to be a knowledgeable watchdog looking out for people admitted to the hospital.
The Hospitalist talked to a half-dozen experts on kidney disease, requesting their words of wisdom for hospitalists. The following are 12 things the experts believe hospitalists should keep in mind as they care for patients with kidney disease.
1) Coordination is key, especially with regard to medications and dialysis after discharge.
A goal should be to develop a “tacit understanding of who does what and just trying to see each day that everyone’s working toward the same goal, so I’m not stopping fluids and then you’re starting fluids, or vice versa,” says Ted Shaikewitz, MD, attending nephrologist at Durham (N.C.) Regional Medical Center and a nephrologist at Durham Nephrology Associates.
A key component of hospitalist-nephrologist collaboration is examining and reconciling medications.
“If it looks like they’re on too many medications, then call the specialist, as opposed to each of you expecting the other one to do it,” he says. “Just pare things down and get rid of things that are unnecessary.”
Often, Dr. Shaikewitz says, the hospitalist and the nephrologist both are reluctant to stop or tweak a medication because someone else started the patient on it. He stresses that the more a medication regimen can be simplified, the better.
Coordination is especially important for dialysis patients who are being sent home, says Ruben Velez, MD, president of the Renal Physicians Association (RPA) and president of Dallas Nephrology Associates. If a nephrologist hasn’t been contacted at discharge, the nephrologist hasn’t contacted the patient’s dialysis center to arrange treatment after the hospitalization. And that treatment likely needs to be altered from what it was before the hospitalization, Dr. Velez explains.
The dialysis center needs to get a small discharge summary, so it’s important to get that ball rolling right away, he adds.
“It’s not uncommon for a nephrologist to round in the morning and suddenly realize that the patient was sent home last night,” he says. “We go, ‘Oops. Did somebody call the dialysis center?’ and we don’t know.”
Informing the nephrologist about discharge helps them do their jobs better, he says.
“My job and my clinical responsibility is, I need to contact the treating nephrologist. I need to contact the dialysis clinic,” he says. “I need to tell them, ‘Change your medications.’ I need to tell them there’s been added antibiotics or other things. I need to tell them what they came in with and what was done. And I need to tell them if there has been a change in their weight….The dialysis clinic has difficulty in dialyzing that patient unless they get this information.”
2) Acknowledge the significance of small, early changes.
A jump in serum creatinine levels at the lower end of the range is far more serious than jumps when the creatinine already is at higher levels, says Lynda Szczech, MD, president of the National Kidney Foundation and medical director at Pharmaceutical Product Development.
“The amount of kidney function that’s described by a [serum creatinine] change of 0.1 when that 0.1” is between 1 and 2, “meaning going from 1.1 to 1.2 or 1.3 to 1.4, is huge compared to the amount of kidney function that is described by a change of 0.1 when you’re higher, when you’re going from 3.0 to 3.1,” Dr. Szczech says. “That’s important, because the earlier changes of going from 0.9 to 1.1 might not trigger a cause for concern, but they actually should be the biggest concern. When you go from a creatinine of 1 to 2, you’ve lost 50 percent of your kidney function. When you go from a creatinine of 3 to 4, you’ve probably lost about 10 percent.”