OBJECTIVES: To survey of the structure, processes and organisation of renal satellite units (RSUs) in England and Wales (Phase 1), and to compare the effectiveness, acceptability, accessibility and economic impact of chronic haemodialysis performed in RSUs compared to main renal units (MRUs) (Phase 2). DATA SOURCES: Phase 1: all renal satellite units in England and Wales. Phase 2: haemodialysis patients in a representative sample (based on geography, site, private--public ownership, medical input) of 12 RSUs and their MRUs. REVIEW METHODS: Phase 1 consisted of a questionnaire survey. Semi-structured interviews were held in a representative sample of 24 RSUs with the senior clinician, senior nurse and manager. Phase 2 consisted of a cross-sectional comparison of patients in these RSUs and patients in the parent MRUs deemed suitable for satellite care by senior staff. Clinical information was obtained from medical notes and unit computer systems. Generic and disease specific health-related quality of life (HRQoL) measures were used. Co-morbidity was assessed by the Wright/Khan Index, the Lister/Chandna score, the Modified Charlson Index, and the Karnofsky Performance Score. Statistical analyses compared RSU versus MRU patients and took account of the paired and clustered nature of the data. RESULTS: In Phase 1, responses were received from 74/80 (93%) of RSUs; 2600 patients were being treated in these RSUs. The interviews were generally positive about the impact of RSUs in terms of improved accessibility and a better environment for chronic haemodialysis (HD) patients, and in expanding renal replacement therapy patients (RRT) capacity. In Phase 2, some 82% of eligible patients took part, 394 patients in the 12 RSUs and 342 in the parent MRUs. The response rate was similar in both groups. There were no significant differences in clinical processes of care. Most clinical outcomes were similar, especially after pooled analysis, although a few parameters were statistically significantly different -- notably the proportion achieving Renal Association Standards for adequacy of dialysis as measured by the urea reduction ratio (URR) was higher in the RSU patients. Patient-specific quality of life did not differ except on the patient satisfaction questions from the KDQOL, which were scored higher by the RSU sample. Strength of preference for health status on and off dialysis was very similar between the groups, as were EQ-5D utilities. Major adverse events were not common in the RSU patients, although there were many hypotensive episodes on HD, a proportion of which affected the duration of the HD session. Of the costs measured, the only difference that was statistically significant was for District Nurse visits. Of particular note was that despite the MRU group having a higher proportion of patients hospitalised, this did not translate into a statistically significant budgetary impact in terms of the total cost per patient of hospitalisations or mean cost per patient per hospitalisation. CONCLUSIONS: This study has shown that RSUs are an effective alternative to MRU HD for a wide spectrum of patients. They improve geographic access for more dispersed areas and reduce patients' travel time, and are generally more acceptable to patients on several criteria. There does not seem to be an adverse impact of care in the RSUs although comparative long-term prospective data are lacking. The evidence suggests that satellite development could be successfully expanded; not all MRUs have any satellites and many have only a few. No single RSU model can be recommended but key factors would include local geography, the likely catchment population and the type of patients to be treated. There is a need for more basic budgetary information linking activity and expenditure to be available and more transparent, to perform at least an insightful top-down costing of the two care settings. Other areas suggested for further research include: a comparison of adverse events occurring in MRUs and RSUs with longer duration and larger numbers to identify more severe events, along with the more research into the scope for preventing such events, and a study into the patients deemed ineligible for satellite care. International comparisons of satellite care would also be useful.



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Adult, Aged, Aged, 80 and over, Cost-Benefit Analysis, Data Collection, England, Female, Health Services Accessibility, Hospitals, Satellite, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Patient Satisfaction, Quality of Health Care, Renal Replacement Therapy, State Medicine, Wales