ATLANTA––We have to assume that organizers of the 34th Annual Dialysis Conference didn’t anticipate the risk of ice storms when they selected this city last year as their host for the 2014 conference. The meeting ended on Tuesday, just one day before hundreds of flights out of the city’s Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport were cancelled by major airlines due to cold weather and snow in the typically mild South (Next year, the conference is in late January in New Orleans).

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Bad weather or not, the Annual Dialysis Conference soldiers on as part of the national conferences that take place each year in nephrology.  It is somewhat unique in that it is not owned or operated by a particular society, such as the American Society of Nephrology, American Nephrology Nurses Association, or American Society of Transplant Physicians. That gives long-time conference chair Karl Nolph, MD, who started this meeting as a haven for advocates of peritoneal dialysis more than two decades ago, more latitude to expand and diversify the program (the ADC has long been sponsored by the University of Missouri Health System). Indeed, the conference now has co-chairs in peritoneal dialysis, hemodialysis, nursing and health-related programs, and pediatrics (the annual Dialysis Conference includes an annual conference on pediatric dialysis, now in its 25th year). The ADC is endorsed by many of the nephrology societies, and programs and lectures are presented in cooperation with groups like the American Society of Pediatric Nephrology, the International Society of Peritoneal Dialysis, and the International Society of Hemodialysis.

Bring comfortable shoes
The 3½ day program is expansive; organizers each year usually stuff multiple sessions into one time slot. That includes a full day of pre-conferences on hemodialysis (two separate programs), peritoneal dialysis, pediatrics, and a recently added program for dialysis technicians. The speaker list includes more than 200 people; some of these are presiders, but many also give multiple talks. There are more than 100 presentations to chose from, plus more than 120 posters, and slide forums throughout the day. Lunch is provided each day to attendees in the convention center so they don’t wander off and miss any sessions.

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The ADC remains the best forum to hear about and discuss issues in home dialysis; everything from how to reduce access complications, payment issues, new technology, and above all, brainstorming on how to get beyond the lowly 10-11% use of peritoneal dialysis and home hemodialysis in the United States (lecturers from other countries often come and talk about their much higher patient census, and debate ensues about how the United States should cover paid assistants and offer more financial incentives).

Organizers could do a better job with getting the most important team member to the table: the patient. Users of home dialysis therapies can be the best cheerleaders to help others feel confident about breaking the dependency of in-center dialysis.

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Patients educating patients about dialysis modality choices goes a long way in helping to spread the word. For any medical therapy, there are complications. But patients who have experienced them are better teachers than those who have not.

Like many nephrology conferences this past year, attendance was not as strong as in the past. Travel is expensive; taking vacation time off from your job to learn how to do a better job is not always a first choice. But its safe to say those who were present this past weekend in Atlanta went home with some new insights on how to meet daily challenges in providing dialysis therapy. That should be the outcome.

For more information about the ADC and the 2014 program that took place in Atlanta, go to http://medicine.missouri.edu/dialysis