New research from the University of Virginia School of Medicine and Virginia Commonwealth University have revealed that a blood test currently used to determine the health and well-being of patients undergoing dialysis treatment may be producing inconsistent results.
This test is administered by physicians to help them make informed decisions about patient care, meaning these inconsistencies could prove detrimental to a patient’s well-being. Dr. Emaad Abdel-Rahman, a nephrologist for the University of Virginia Health System, commented “We base lots of our decisions on lab parameters, and they have to be as accurate as possible. Obviously, this puts a shadow on the results, and these are not as clear as they could be. You really don’t know how to base a decision.” Researchers evaluated 24 separate testing methods that analyze dialysis patients’ levels of serum and plasma albumin. These levels are needed to evaluate the nutritional status, kidney function, and fluid balance of patients.
The results of these tests varied and were inconsistent, allowing researchers to conclude that doctors’ interpretations of their results are compromised. Dr. David Burns commented on the implications that these inconsistent results could have on patient care, stating “Patients who don’t meet [albumin goals] have to go on nutritional interventions, which are expensive… It just puts more burden on patients who already have huge burdens… We know for a fact that this [albumin levels] correlates with mortality.” Given that inconsistent results can result in unnecessary interventions that are expensive, or an incorrect assessment of well-being that may potentially lead to death, these tests must be reevaluated and redesigned in order to increase accuracy and consistency.
There are two main types of blood tests doctors use to evaluate a dialysis patients’ well-being—they’re known as BCG and BCP. Researchers found that all BCG tests were unsatisfactory, while eight of the 12 BCP tests were deemed acceptable. Due to these results, researchers are urging doctors to use these eight tests exclusively when evaluating a patients’ albumin levels in order to obtain more consistent results. They also recommend that the guidelines for the care of dialysis methods are altered to consider the variations found in different testing methods.