Living more than 150 miles from a liver transplant center was associated with a higher risk of mortality among patients with chronic liver failure, regardless of etiology, transplantation status, or whether patients had decompensated cirrhosis or hepatocellular carcinoma, according to a first-in-kind, population-based study reported in the June issue of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology ().
The findings underscore the need for accessible, specialized liver care irrespective of whether patients with chronic liver failure (CLF) are destined for transplantation,, of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, wrote with his associates. The associations “do not provide cause and effect,” but underscore the need to consider “the broader impact of transplant-related policies that could decrease transplant volumes and threaten closures of smaller liver transplant centers that serve geographically isolated populations in the Southeast and Midwest,” they added.
A total of 879 (5.2%) patients lived more than 150 miles from the nearest liver transplant center, the analysis showed. Even after controlling for etiology of liver disease, this subgroup was at significantly greater risk of mortality (hazard ratio, 1.2; 95% confidence interval, 1.1-1.3; P less than .001) and of dying without undergoing transplantation (HR, 1.2; 95% CI, 1.1-1.3; P = .003) than were patients who were less geographically isolated. Distance from a transplant center also predicted overall and transplant-free mortality when modeled as a continuous variable, with hazard ratios of 1.02 (P = .02) and 1.03 (P = .04), respectively. “Although patients living more than 150 miles from a liver transplant center had fewer outpatient gastroenterologist visits, this covariate did not affect the final models,” the investigators reported. Rural locality did not predict mortality after controlling for distance from a transplant center, and neither did living in a low-income zip code, they added.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that age-adjusted rates of death from liver disease are lowest in New York, where the entire population lives within 150 miles of a liver transplant center, the researchers noted. “By contrast, New Mexico and Wyoming have the highest age-adjusted death rates, and more than 95% of those states’ populations live more than 150 miles from a [transplant] center,” they emphasized. “The management of most patients with CLF is not centered on transplantation, but rather the spectrum of care for decompensated cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. Thus, maintaining access to specialized liver care is important for patients with CLF.”
Dr. Goldberg received support from the National Institutes of Health. The investigators had no conflicts.