Medical students and residents are often intimidated by renal physiology and struggle to understand the many aspects of the kidney’s role in medical disease. If trainees have trouble grasping the complexities of the kidney, it should come as no surprise that our patients feel the same way.
Health literacy, or the ability of an individual to be actively engaged in a dialogue about his health, has been linked to patient outcomes. Adequate health literacy is particularly important in chronic kidney disease (CKD), which often requires patients to navigate a complex health system and make drastic lifestyle changes. Patients may be faced with such critical decisions as choosing to begin renal replacement therapy with little to no understanding of its implications.
As a first-year Nephrology fellow, most of the patients I see are new to me as well as new to the clinic. I quickly realized that despite being referred to a clinic that exclusively sees patients with kidney disease, several of my patients were wholly unaware of having renal dysfunction in the first place. When I asked them what they had trouble understanding, they often replied with, “everything,” and didn’t know where to begin.
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