Industry Voices—New tools help reimagine how we combat chronic kidney disease

Our increasingly connected digital world offers tremendous promise to better educate patients about their healthcare risks as well as provide steps they can take to prevent disease progression or manage a chronic condition. Nowhere is this opportunity greater than in our approach to chronic kidney disease (CKD).

New tools can help us completely reimagine CKD awareness and treatment—if we have the courage and dedication to put them into action.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 90% of Americans with CKD are unaware of their condition, because symptoms often go unnoticed until the disease reaches its advanced stages. In fact, about half of all patients requiring dialysis learn that their condition has progressed to this stage in a hospital emergency department.

Today, however, increasingly sophisticated data analytics enable us to see patterns that provide insight into both demographic trends and individual health among the population diagnosed with CKD. These patterns, in turn, can help us predict which specific patients’ disease is progressing the fastest—and provide those patients with customized information to help them better understand their treatment options.

We know this kind of engagement works. At CVS Kidney Care, we have the capability to apply this type of machine learning analytics to a data set of more than 20 million lives. Instead of treating CKD by its traditional “stage,” we can custom-tailor the level and timing of outreach and educational materials offered to each member.

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For those who are predicted to be months away from kidney failure, our targeted engagement aims to help them better prepare for future treatment—for example, by encouraging them to complete other needed medical procedures before starting dialysis.

Our machine learning model has enabled us to identify 105% more members on track for needing dialysis, based on risk of progression, compared to traditional models that focus on CKD stage alone. As a result, we’re able to intervene at the right time—delivering a 21% increase in patients having a planned transition to dialysis before a potential acute event or emergency department visit takes place.

Along with more effectively identifying patients at risk of progressing to kidney failure—and helping them start on treatment in a planned way—our increasing investments in digital connectivity enable us to significantly improve the care experience for patients requiring dialysis.

While dialysis is lifesaving, it places significant burdens on patients and their caregivers—who often must spend hours in a dialysis facility, multiple times each week. Patients living in remote areas and those with mobility challenges face especially frustrating burdens.

Broadening treatment options, including home-based dialysis, will enable eligible patients to choose a more convenient way of managing their treatments on their own terms, while staving off serious and even deadly complications. Additionally, increasing access to home-based treatment makes it easier for caregivers to serve as true partners in care for their loved ones.

We know that every patient is unique in their challenges, preferences, backgrounds and personalities. Leveraging the power of advanced data analytics and machine learning provides us new opportunities to offer patients as many customized options as reasonably possible — and to reach them at the right time, in the right setting.

If we do this right, we all benefit. More efficient and better managed CKD—including more strategic transitions to treatment—means lower overall healthcare costs and a stronger healthcare system. Most importantly, it means better outcomes and improved comfort for the millions of patients we serve.

Lisa Rometty is the president of CVS Kidney Care.