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Health, Science & Tech

Alert System At UPMC Hospitals Helps Doctors Detect Kidney Failure Earlier

Jessica Kourkounis
A woman has her blood drawn after receiving a kidney transplant at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia on Oct. 6, 2016.

New research from the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC credits a computer program with detecting sudden kidney failure in hospitalized patients.


Acute kidney injury affects one in eight hospitalized patients in the U.S., according to UPMC. About 2 million people in the world die of the condition each year, and because it’s often asymptomatic, it can be undetected until problems arise.


The computer program monitors changes in a patient’s blood creatinine levels, the primary marker of acute kidney injury. If levels rise too fast, the program marks the patient’s electronic medical record to alert the physician of the change.


John Kellum, senior author on the research and director of Pitt’s Center for Critical Care Nephrology, says levels of blood creatinine vary by person.


“You can’t just pick a single number [like] blood cholesterol for example,” Kellum said. “The creatinine that is normal for you may be very different from a creatinine for someone else.”


After studying more than half a million patients in 14 UPMC hospitals, the alert system decreased acute kidney disease mortality by nearly a percentage point, and decreased rates of dialysis due to sudden kidney failure by 2.7 percentage points.


Kellum acknowledges the changes are small -- however, he says worldwide the program could save more than 17,000 lives and $1.2 billion dollars a year.


“When you have a problem that’s so enormous and affects so many millions of people, to just make a very small benefit in those patients has a ripple effect across the entire system,” Kellum said.


Kellum says there are plans to improve the current program for future application.