Use of the 'Accountability for Reasonableness' Approach to Improve Fairness in Accessing Dialysis in a Middle-Income Country

Universal access to renal replacement therapy is beyond the economic capability of most low and middle-income countries due to large patient numbers and the high recurrent cost of treating end stage kidney disease. In countries where limited access is available, no systems exist that allow for optimal use of the scarce dialysis facilities. We previously reported that using national guidelines to select patients for renal replacement therapy resulted in biased allocation. We reengineered selection guidelines using the 'Accountability for Reasonableness' (procedural fairness) framework in collaboration with relevant stakeholders, applying these in a novel way to categorize and prioritize patients in a unique hierarchical fashion. The guidelines were primarily premised on patients being transplantable. We examined whether the revised guidelines enhanced fairness of dialysis resource allocation. This is a descriptive study of 1101 end stage kidney failure patients presenting to a tertiary renal unit in a middle-income country, evaluated for dialysis treatment over a seven-year period. The Assessment Committee used the accountability for reasonableness-based guidelines to allocate patients to one of three assessment groups. Category 1 patients were guaranteed renal replacement therapy, Category 3 patients were palliated, and Category 2 were offered treatment if resources allowed. Only 25.2% of all end stage kidney disease patients assessed were accepted for renal replacement treatment. The majority of patients (48%) were allocated to Category 2. Of 134 Category 1 patients, 98% were accepted for treatment while 438 (99.5%) Category 3 patients were excluded. Compared with those palliated, patients accepted for dialysis treatment were almost 10 years younger, employed, married with children and not diabetic. Compared with our previous selection process our current method of priority setting based on procedural fairness arguably resulted in more equitable allocation of treatment but, more importantly, it is a model that is morally, legally and ethically more defensible.