Distance from Transplant Center -Not a Good Thing for Chronic Liver Disease

It is said that “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”  This expression certainly cannot be extrapolated to the liver.  A recent study (DS Goldberg et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2017; 15: 958-60) showed that increased distance to a liver transplant center was associated with higher mortality for patients with chronic liver failure (CLF).

This study examined 16,824 patients with CLF.  In the cohort (879, 5.2%) who lived  >150 miles from the closest LT center there was a 20% higher mortality rate (Hazard ratio of 1.20; P <.001).  According to the authors, mortality with distance “modeled as a continuous variable per unit increase in 50 miles.”

From the discussion:

  • “For patients with CLF, transplant remains the only option for long-term survival. Yet for the 11 out of 12 who are never transplanted, access to specialized care may still prolong life.”
  • Limitations: This study could not account for socioeconomic factors or control for geographical variation in care.  With regard to the later, death rates from liver disease are lowest in New York, where the entire population is within 150 miles of a transplant center.  In contrast, in New Mexico and Wyoming, which have the highest age-adjusted death rates, more than 95% of patients live >150 miles from a transplant center. However, there may be many other differences in care besides distance in these regions.

My take: This study, though with some limitations, bolsters the view that patients with chronic liver disease (and probably other chronic diseases) live longer if in proximity to specialized care.

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