Kidney-failure patients treated at for-profit dialysis centers have an 8% higher risk of death than patients at not-for-profit centers, according to an analysis of eight studies appearing in today's Journal of the American Medical Association. The findings suggest that 1,200 to 4,000 people die prematurely of kidney failure each year in the U.S., the report said. Researchers at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, analyzed eight U.S. studies dating from 1973 to 1997 and involving a median of 1,342 facilities each. Their report comes as Canada debates the merits of privatizing some healthcare delivery. "Our results suggest the inadvisability of introducing private for-profit dialysis centers into the Canadian healthcare system," the researchers wrote. "A previous systematic review suggested that private for-profit hospitals increase mortality relative to private not-for-profit hospitals. Together with the results of this review, these data provide compelling evidence that profit status can have an important impact on the outcomes of medical care."
Dirk Allison, CFO at Renal Care Group, Nashville, a publicly traded company, said the age of the data makes the analysis' conclusions irrelevant, and he said two studies based on U.S. government data indicate similar mortality rates among for-profit and not-for-profit studies. "The data is from the early 1970s, with the most recent from 1997. Most of the big for-profits (in dialysis care) have come to be in the last four to five years," Allison said. Renal Care Group, launched in 1996, operates 260 outpatient dialysis facilities and provides acute dialysis services at 120 hospitals. -- by Julie Piotrowski