To meet the need, roughly 7,000 kidney dialysis centers have opened across the country. Patients go several times a week and spend half a day undergoing the life-sustaining procedure. Medicare is now taking steps to make it easier for people to do their own dialysis at home.
That sounds like great news to Dr. Robert LaClair, a nephrologist in Helena, Mont., who has an unusually high percentage of patients who do their dialysis at home: 40 percent versus the national rate of about 10 percent. That’s largely because LaClair is no fan of how dialysis has traditionally been done in America. He says his patients do better if they’re more active participants in their care, rather than passive receivers.
“The way we do dialysis in this country, no one would be saying, ‘This is the way we should be doing things,’ ” LaClair says.
The traditional dialysis routine in a clinic setting is tough on patients, he says. “Often our patients will feel poorly for four, five, six hours, sometimes the rest of the day after a dialysis treatment [in the center],” LaClair says. “They only start feeling better by the next day. And then of course by the time they feel really well, they’re back on dialysis again. So it’s very hard on people, especially as they get older, to have to go through that kind of treatment.”
Contrast that to LaClair’s patient, 84-year-old Ward Shanahan. He’s a retired attorney who was diagnosed with diabetes a year ago. LeClair prescribed a home dialysis machine that Shanahan uses every night at bedtime. More frequent dialysis means less recovery time, and patients can do it when it’s convenient for them, not when centers have appointments available.
“It gives me a life again,” Shanahan says.
He has a lakeside cabin he likes to visit in …