How To Manage Dialysis During the Coronavirus Pandemic

April 17, 2020

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Thomas Salazar, M.D. contributes to topics such as Nephrology.

Skipping dialysis isn’t an option for someone with kidney failure, even during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, health care providers at outpatient dialysis units have implemented policies to make the experience safer for all patients, whether or not they’ve been exposed to the virus.

How Patients Are Protected

Patients should be screened to determine whether they’re healthy, whether they have COVID-19 or whether it’s possible that they may develop the illness.

“We have nurses outside the dialysis unit screening every single dialysis patient who is coming into the clinic,” says Thomas Salazer, MD, chief of nephrology at Hackensack University Medical Center. “Everybody has their temperature taken before they’re even allowed into the dialysis unit, and they’re screened for questions that would possibly raise a concern for patients who might have been exposed or actually who have, now, early symptoms of the COVID-19 infection.”

Patients with a fever and symptoms aren’t able to keep going to their usual dialysis shifts. Instead, they should be rescheduled to dialysis at different times, when only patients with suspected COVID-19 are treated. And patients with confirmed COVID-19 receive dialysis during separate shifts when only other patients with confirmed cases are treated.

What to Expect At Your Visit

When you enter the waiting room for your outpatient dialysis appointments, whether or not you’re healthy, you should expect:

  • Social distancing practices, keeping patients 6 feet apart from one another
  • All patients wearing masks, whether or not they have symptoms
  • Purell dispensers at every station

How To Stay Safe From COVID-19

Adults with any number of chronic health conditions – including those with compromised immune systems and hypertension – are at increased risk of complications if they contract COVID-19. People with kidney failure who receive dialysis are no exception.

“Dialysis patients are innately immuno-compromised, and they are at increased risk of having more severe infections with COVID-19,” Salazer says. “Patients who have hypertension are at increased risk of having worse symptomatology, and dialysis patients – 90-plus percent of them have hypertension.”

To lower your risk of contracting COVID-19, follow these tips:

  • Stay home whenever possible
  • Cancel all non-essential appointments
  • Practice social distancing, staying 6 feet away from others
  • Wash your hands often, for at least 20 seconds at a time with soap

If you think that you may have symptoms of COVID-19, don’t let that stop you from going for dialysis. However, you should immediately call your doctor to find out what your next steps should be.

“Call the dialysis unit ahead of time, if you have any symptoms [or] were exposed to a person who is COVID-19 positive,” Salazer says, “so that we can handle it even before they get to the clinic.”

If you go to the emergency room and are admitted to the hospital with a case of confirmed or suspected COVID-19, the hospital has practices in place to ensure that you continue to receive dialysis.

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