Care for chronic renal failure involves management of complications and preparation for possible dialysis. Patients often are not evaluated by nephrologists in a timely manner. To identify factors associated with late evaluation by a nephrologist and to assess whether late evaluation is associated with worse survival once patients develop end-stage renal disease (ESRD). National prospective cohort study. 81 dialysis facilities throughout the United States. 828 patients with new-onset ESRD. Time from first evaluation by a nephrologist to initiation of dialysis, classified as late (<4 months), intermediate (4 to 12 months), or early (>12 months); rate of death, from initiation of dialysis to an average of 2.2 years of follow-up; and demographic, clinical, and laboratory characteristics. After adjustment for potential confounders, late evaluation was more common among black men than white men (44.8% vs. 24.5%; P < 0.05), uninsured patients than insured patients (56.7% vs. 29.0%; P < 0.05) and patients with severe comorbid disease than those with mild comorbid disease (35.0% vs. 23.0%; P < 0.05). Compared with patients who had early evaluation, the risk for death was greater among patients evaluated late and was graded (hazard ratio, 1.3 [95% CI, 0.87 to 2.06] for patients with intermediate evaluation and 1.8 [CI, 1.21 to 2.61] for those with late evaluation) after adjustment for dialysis method, demographic characteristics, and socioeconomic status in Cox proportional hazards regression analysis. After additional adjustment for such factors as the presence and severity of comorbid conditions, the association remained graded (hazard ratio, 1.2 [CI, 0.73 to 1.82] for patients evaluated at an intermediate point and 1.6 [CI, 1.04 to 2.39] for those evaluated late). Late evaluation of patients with chronic renal failure by a nephrologist is associated with greater burden and severity of comorbid disease, black ethnicity, lack of health insurance, and shorter duration of survival.