The hemodialysis vascular access surveillance controversy provides a case study of how enthusiasm for a new test or treatment can lead to adoption of a false paradigm. Paradigms are the beliefs and assumptions shared by those in a field of knowledge, and are commonly included in clinical practice guidelines. The guidelines of the National Kidney Foundation Kidney Disease Outcomes Quality Initiative recommend that arteriovenous vascular accesses undergo routine surveillance for detection and correction of stenosis. This recommendation is based on the paradigm that surveillance of access blood flow or dialysis venous pressure combined with correction of stenosis improves access outcomes. However, the quality of evidence that supports this paradigm has been widely criticized. We tested the validity of the surveillance paradigm by applying World Health Organization (WHO) criteria for evaluating screening tests to a literature review of published vascular access studies. These criteria include four components: undesired condition, screening test, intervention, and desired outcome. The WHO criteria show that surveillance as currently practiced fails all four components and provides little or no significant benefit, suggesting that surveillance is a false paradigm. Once a paradigm is established, however, challenges to its validity are usually resisted even as new evidence indicates the paradigm is not valid. Thus, it is paramount to apply rigorous criteria when developing guidelines. Regulators may help promote needed changes in paradigms when cost and safety considerations coincide.
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