A primary obligation of medical journals is the responsible, professional, and expeditious delivery of knowledge from researchers and practitioners to the wider community [1]. The task of journal editors, therefore, rests not merely in selecting what to publish, but in large measure judging how it can best be communicated. The challenge of improving descriptions of kidney function and disease in medical publishing was the impetus for a Kidney Disease: Improving Global Outcomes (KDIGO) Consensus Conference held in June 2019. The conference goals included standardizing and refining kidney-related nomenclature used in English-language scientific articles and developing a glossary that can be used by journals [2].

The rationale for the conference was that the worldwide burden of kidney disease is rising, but public awareness remains limited, underscoring the need for effective communication by stakeholders in the kidney health community [3-6]. Despite this need, the nomenclature for describing kidney function and disease lacks uniformity and clarity. Two decades ago, a survey of hundreds of published articles and meeting abstracts reported a broad array of overlapping, confusing terms for chronic kidney disease (CKD) and advocated adoption of unambiguous terminology [7]. Nevertheless, terms flagged by that analysis as problematic, such as “chronic renal failure” and “pre-dialysis,” still appear in current-day publications. A coherent, shared nomenclature could improve communication at all levels, to not only foster better appreciation of the burden of disease but also aid understanding of how patients feel about their disease, allow more effective communication between kidney disease specialists and other clinicians, advance more straightforward comparison and integration of datasets, enable better recognition of gaps in knowledge for future research, and facilitate more comprehensive public health policies for acute and chronic kidney disease.

Developing consistent, patient-centered, and precise descriptions of kidney function and disease in the scientific literature is an important objective to align communication in clinical practice, research, and public health. Although some terms have been in use for decades, the increased exchange of information among stakeholders makes it timely to revisit nomenclature in order to ensure consistency. The goal is to facilitate communication within and across disciplines and between practitioners and patients, with the ultimate hope of improving outcomes through consistency and precision.

Attendees at the conference included editors of kidney subspecialty journals, kidney subspecialty editors at general medical journals and journals from other subspecialties, experienced authors of clinical kidney health research, and patients. Guiding principles of the conference were that the revised nomenclature should be patient-centered, precise, and consistent with nomenclature used in the KDIGO guidelines (online suppl. Fig. S1; for all online suppl. material, see www.karger.com/doi/10.1159/000509359. Chronic kidney disease nomenclature used by KDIGO). The discussion focused on general description of acute and chronic kidney disease and kidney measures, rather than specific kidney diseases and particular measures of function and structure. Classifications of causes of kidney disease and procedures, performance measures, and outcome metrics for dialysis and transplantation were considered beyond the scope of discussion.

As described in detail in the conference report [8], the meeting attendees reached general consensus on the following recommendations: (i) to use “kidney” rather than “renal” or “nephro-” when referring to kidney disease and kidney function; (ii) to use “kidney failure” with appropriate descriptions of presence or absence of symptoms, signs, and treatment rather than “end-stage kidney disease”; (iii) to use the KDIGO definition and classification of acute kidney diseases and disorders (AKD) and acute kidney injury (AKI) rather than alternative descriptions to define and classify the severity of these; (iv) to use the KDIGO definition and classification of CKD rather than alternative descriptions to define and classify it; and (v) to use specific kidney measures, such as albuminuria or decreased glomerular filtration rate, rather than “abnormal” or “reduced” kidney function to describe alterations in kidney structure and function (Table 1). Accordingly, the proposed glossary contains 5 corresponding sections, and comprises specific items for which there was general agreement among the conference participants (https://kdigo.org/conferences/nomenclature/; Table 2) [8]. For each section, the glossary includes preferred terms, abbreviations, descriptions, and terms to avoid, with the acknowledgment that journals may choose which of the recommendations to implement, and that journal style will dictate when and how to abbreviate terms to be consistent with nomenclature for other diseases.

Table 1.

Key takeaways from the conference

Key takeaways from the conference
Key takeaways from the conference
Table 2.

KDIGO Kidney Function and Disease Glossary: suggested terms to describe kidney function and kidney disease, and criteria and measures defining them

KDIGO Kidney Function and Disease Glossary: suggested terms to describe kidney function and kidney disease, and criteria and measures defining them
KDIGO Kidney Function and Disease Glossary: suggested terms to describe kidney function and kidney disease, and criteria and measures defining them

A guiding principle for the development of the glossary was patient-centeredness. The Health and Medicine Division of the US National Academies of Sciences defines patient-centered care as “[p]roviding care that is respectful of, and responsive to, individual patient preferences, needs and values, and ensuring that patient values guide all clinical decisions” [9]. One of the 10 general principles recommended for redesign of the health system is: “Knowledge is shared and information flows freely. Patients should have unfettered access to their own medical information and to clinical knowledge. Clinicians and patients should communicate effectively and share information.” In principle, the terms used to describe kidney function and disease should be understandable to all, with acknowledgment of variation in the level of health literacy. Use of multiple terms with similar meaning can lead to confusion, as can use of terms that forecast the future (such as “pre-dialysis”) rather than describe the present. However, convergence of multiple names into an accepted set of terms does require that users of the glossary are willing to accept that labels that have been preeminent historically, and that may be more familiar or memorable even now, should now be superseded [10].

Of equal importance to patient-centeredness in the development of the glossary was precision, which can generally be defined as exactness or accuracy [10]. How medicine is defined and understood is changing rapidly from a descriptive, disease-based categorization in which multiple pathogenetic pathways may be conflated to a mechanism-based categorization that will promote more precise management of clinical problems. The latter approach, in which a molecular profile is added to the clinical and morphologic profile, has already revolutionized diagnosis and treatment in oncology. In nephrology, the ongoing Kidney Precision Medicine Project, funded by the National Institutes of Health, seeks to ethically obtain and evaluate kidney biopsies from participants with AKI or CKD; create a kidney tissue atlas; define disease subgroups; and identify cells, pathways, and targets for novel therapies [11]. As has occurred in oncology, it is anticipated that refinements that result in more precise disease descriptions will be incorporated into current nomenclature for kidney function and disease, rather than replace it altogether. Thus, although the glossary is designed to be consistent with current knowledge and stable enough to remain relevant for the foreseeable future, it is also intended to be sufficiently flexible to accommodate new vocabulary arising with advances in the field.

A central strength of the proposed glossary is that it is based on existing KDIGO definitions, classifications, and nomenclature for acute and chronic kidney disease. In addition, it was developed using the following: a systematic process, including articulation of a clear and transparent rationale (patient-centeredness and precision); capture of stakeholder viewpoints via patient focus groups [12] and a corresponding survey; a period of public comment on conference scope; and attainment of consensus among attendees at the conference. Although the recommendations are not likely to answer all concerns, the consensus among conference attendees was that standardizing scientific nomenclature is a necessary first step to improving communications among clinicians, researchers, and public health officials, and with patients, their families and caregivers, and the public.

Limitations of the proposed glossary are that it is restricted to English (nuances may be difficult to translate); only a limited number of stakeholders were able to participate, owing to practical reasons; it is not comprehensive (it does not include disease classification, dialysis, transplantation); and further specification is required for studies in children. For these and other reasons, we consider the current recommendations for a glossary to be an important starting point, and it will require future expansion and updating.

Achieving consensus among conference attendees, and publication of the conference report and glossary, is only the first step in implementation of a revised nomenclature. The glossary will be freely available on the KDIGO website (https://kdigo.org/conferences/nomenclature/; Table 2). Elements of the glossary will be included in online updates to the newly released (11th) edition of the AMA Manual of Style [13]. Medical journals adopting the recommendations will need to determine how to implement them, and this process will require education of editorial staff as well as proactive communication with authors, generally and with regard to specific manuscripts. If successful, further implementation in clinical practice, research, and public health will require more widespread dissemination and professional education. Improving communication with patients and the public will require efforts to improve patient education and health literacy for the public, and guides to communication with patients. Professional societies, industry, and patient advocacy organizations will be critical to these efforts.

Advances in research, particularly in precision medicine, will introduce a myriad of new terms and novel concepts requiring incorporation into disease definitions and classifications. In addition, the increasing prominence and participation of patient and caregiver communities in defining research and best practices in clinical care will further elucidate the characteristics of patient-centered terminology. Expanding and updating the KDIGO glossary can be accomplished as part of the activities of future KDIGO guideline workgroups and conferences.

The authors are grateful to Juhi Chaudhari, MPH, at Tufts Medical Center, Boston, MA for assistance with manuscript preparation. The content of this article does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the journal organizations represented at the conference. Responsibility for the information and views expressed is limited to the coauthors.

A.S.L. declared having received research support from AstraZeneca, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and National Kidney Foundation. K.-U.E. declared having received consultancy fees from Akebia, Bayer, and Genzyme; speaker honoraria from Bayer and Vifor; and research support from Amgen, AstraZeneca, Bayer, Fresenius Medical Care, and Genzyme. N.M.D. declared having equity ownership/stock options from Eli Lilly & Co. M.J. declared having received consultancy fees from Astellas, AstraZeneca, GSK, MSD, and Vifor Fresenius Medical Care Renal Pharma; speaker honoraria from Abbvie, Amgen, Menarini, MSD, and Vifor Fresenius Medical Care Renal Pharma; travel support from Amgen; and research support from Alexion, Amgen, Janssen-Cilag, Otsuka, and Roche. W.C.W. declared having received consultancy fees from Akebia, AMAG, Amgen, AstraZeneca, Bayer, Daiichi-Sankyo, Relypsa, and ZS Pharma; speaker honoraria from FibroGen; and research support from National Institutes of Health. All the other authors declared no competing interests.

The conference was sponsored by KDIGO and supported in part by unrestricted educational grants from AstraZeneca, Bayer HealthCare, Boehringer Ingelheim, Fresenius Medical Care, Roche, and Sanofi.

Each author fulfills the ICMJE Criteria for Authorship.

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This article is being published in Kidney International Reports and reprinted concurrently in several journals. The articles cover identical concepts and wording but vary in minor stylistic and spelling changes, detail, and length of manuscript, in keeping with each journal’s style. Any of these versions may be used in citing this article. Excerpts are adapted with permission of KDIGO and the International Society of Nephrology.

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