At any given time, approximately 27% of patients in the United States (US) receive hemodialysis through a permanent catheter. However, this cross-sectional estimate may significantly underestimate the lifetime exposure of patients to hemodialysis catheters, and hence, to the excess risk of the adverse clinical events associated with catheter use. To further clarify catheter use in hemodialysis patients, we identified a cohort of fistula and graft patients in the US Renal Data System using Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes. Patients were included if their first hemodialysis was between 1 January 1996 and 31 December 2001, and Medicare was their primary payer. We identified permanent catheter insertions in these patients using CPT codes starting 6 months before their first hemodialysis session (or fistula or graft placement, if earlier), and ending 40 months afterward. Most patients (82%) were >65 years old, 57% were male, and 72% were white. The overall rate of permanent catheter insertions was 44 per 100 patient years, with 57% of patients having at least one catheter insertion. The percent of patients receiving a catheter was similar before (30%) and after (27%) the first fistula or graft placement. Cross-sectional analysis may significantly underestimate the lifetime risk of exposure to hemodialysis catheters. Because catheter use is common even in fistula and graft patients, measures used to prevent adverse events associated with catheter use are important in all patients regardless of current access type.
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