Image courtesy of Central Texas Nephrology Associates.
Image courtesy of Central Texas Nephrology Associates.

Kidney Care’s Coronavirus Revolution

The Coronavirus pandemic is turning the healthcare industry upside-down. Dialysis centers and kidney care programs are no exception. For better or worse, the times are forcing both patients and providers to reexamine the way they do things as they find a new normal. We firmly believe this setback is actually an opportunity to change for the better.

How is the Coronavirus pandemic affecting kidney care?

For many chronic kidney disease (CKD) patients, dialysis is necessary life-saving treatment. However, dialysis clinics and kidney programs are still feeling the impact of the pandemic like everyone else. During this period kidney care programs are experiencing:

  1. High rate of complications: the average age and health of dialysis patients put them squarely in a high-risk demographic. These people require extra care and caution, and we are likely to face increased hospitalization and mortality rates if they contract COVID-19.
  2. Decreased profits: many clinics are practicing social distancing by closing off every other dialysis chair and reducing patient capacity. They must also clean more often and supply more personal protective equipment (PPE) to patients and staff. All these efforts decrease the bottom line.
  3. High-stress environment: We’re all under extra stress these days. Anyone in the healthcare industry is exposing themselves to extra risk, and they worry about the health of their compromised patients as well. Dialysis staff must juggle these extra mental and emotional burdens on top of an intense workload.
  4. Poor patient experience: traditional kidney dialysis has never been an enjoyable experience, and now, patients are likely to bring an extra level of anxiety into the clinic. This is creating a terrible environment for health and healing.

How can kidney care programs improve during the pandemic?

The Coronavirus may be new, but over 40+ years as a nephrologist, I’ve seen all of these issues before in one way or another.

  1. Involve the patient: patients are the least utilized resource in medicine, but they are the most important! Effective coaching, training, and education transform patients from a burden to a resource. It’s time to give patients control over their own health.
  2. Explore alternative kidney care treatments: CMS is already offering financial incentives for nephrologists to move away from traditional in-center assembly line dialysis towards CKD, transplants, and self-dialysis (in center or at home). As clinics struggle to keep up with social distancing, now is the perfect time to explore alternatives to in-center care.
  3. Implement tele-health options: Tele-health done with empathy, and compassion makes kidney care convenient, easy, more affordable — both now and in the future.
  4. Focus on the most marginalized: The pandemic is already highlighting huge gaps in the quality of care for the poor and forgotten… elderly and nursing home patients, patients with psychiatric and drug problems, and those with the least social support. Now is the time to make sure we have systems and practices in place to provide equal care for all. Currently NIH uses 3% of grants to improve psych social projects, even though 70% of medicine is psych social. It’s time to increase funding to address social/psych needs in healthcare.
  5. Build relationships with experienced partners: Change can be hard, but fortunately healthcare providers have a wealth of resources available to educate and equip themselves right now.
    1. Empowered Kidney Care: We specialize specifically in improving kidney care, providing training and resources to equip your program for the pandemic and beyond. Click here to learn more.
    2. Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation: talented people like Tom Duval and Brad Smith can help you to accelerate desperately needed innovation at your institution. They can also help you better understand government initiatives and the new direction healthcare is going. Click here to learn more.
    3. Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI): Talk with people like Maureen Bisognano on how to implement coaching and training programs on in-center and home self-care dialysis options. Over the years, IHI has been instrumental to our own successful program here at Empowered Kidney Care. They will help you innovate at an organizational level and build a culture that fosters and celebrates improvement. Click here to learn more.

Now is the perfect time to innovate

Many industries (healthcare and otherwise) are struggling to simply get through each week. Is now really the time to think about improvement? Absolutely! Innovation now will help you navigate the challenges of the pandemic AND position you with strong momentum as the economy steadily returns to normal. Your efforts will pay off in huge dividends when you start to:

  1. Decrease mortality and hospitalization rates
  2. Decrease ER visits
  3. Decrease staff turnover
  4. Decrease staff burnout
  5. Demonstrate savings for payers etc.

Kidney care needs a paradigm shift

In the end, the logistical problems associated with the pandemic simply highlight the preexisting conditions that have already been plaguing the kidney care industry. Dysfunction has been lurking behind the scenes for some time now, manifesting symptoms like high mortality rate, staff burnout, overspending, and poor patient experience.

Improving the current outlook is going to require much more than a little tweak here and there; the kidney care industry needs to adopt a complete paradigm shift. It’s time to give patients control of their own health. It’s time to create a community environment in which doctors, nurses, techs, and patients, are all working together in partnership towards better health and quality of life.

We know from experience that this “empowered” culture change isn’t just a nice idea, it translates to real-world improvements in outcomes, costs, and experience.

If you have any questions or are ready to get started on your own kidney care revolution, please give me a call. I would love to talk with you. Now more than ever, it’s time to revolutionize kidney care.

Dr. Richard Gibney, Empowered Kidney Care P.C.

Dr. Richard Gibney

Dr. Richard Gibney has been in the kidney care industry for over four decades. Like many nephrologists (kidney specialists) he simply didn’t know that there were alternatives to the status quo. In 2006, a partnership with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) inspired him to innovate. Years later, his eyes were opened by a visit about an acclaimed dialysis program in Jonkoping, Sweden. Over a four year period, Dr. Gibney led the successful transformation of 11 dialysis units in central Texas to an empowered model, serving over 500 patients with exceptional results. Staff and patients were extremely satisfied, and mortality and hospitalizations were cut in half. Today, Dr. Gibney and his specialized team of doctors, nurses, and technicians help others achieve the same empowered results.