US could save $1B+ annually with more specialist care for chronic kidney disease

The U.S. healthcare system could save more than $1 billion annually by providing better specialist care and coordination for chronic kidney disease patients, according to an analysis from the nonprofit research organization RAND Corp.

Here are four things to know:

1. Researchers created a simulated model to help estimate possible savings from improving care for patients with stage 3 and 4 kidney disease. They examined whether increased use of a nephrologist to slow disease progression and better care coordination for kidney transplant patients could help reduce treatment costs.

2. About 90 percent of people with chronic kidney disease will need hemodialysis, which costs Medicare about $80,000 annually per patient.

3. The analysis showed increased nephrology care for patients with stage 3 kidney disease would not generate net savings. However, more nephrology care and care coordination for stage 4 kidney disease patients would result in an estimated $1.36 billion in annual savings, including about $730 million in Medicare savings, according to the analysis.

4. About 60 percent of savings were linked to preventing kidney dialysis in a hospital setting. The remaining savings stemmed from other patient care improvements.

"Extending specialized care to patients with advanced kidney disease before their kidneys fail would have benefits both for patients and for the organizations that pay for their health services," Harry Liu, the study's lead author and senior policy researcher at RAND, said in a press release. "But new payment models may be needed to encourage this change."

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