Stopping Chronic Kidney Disease Before it Starts: Improving Education, Identification and Prevention Holds the Key to Stopping the Growth of CKD

By Dr. Allen Nissenson, KCP Chair

30 million. That is the number of American adults who are living with chronic kidney disease (CKD) today, which – if left untreated – can progress to kidney failure. Even worse, more than half of the patients with kidney disease are not aware of their condition, leaving their disease untreated and the future of their health uncertain.

As KCP chair and a member of the kidney care community, I have had a front-row seat to the staggering growth of CKD that has contributed to more than 124,000 Americans being diagnosed with kidney failure each year. The rising prevalence of CKD and kidney failure exacerbates the nation’s pre-existing organ shortage, resulting in 13 Americans dying every day as they wait for a kidney transplant.

Kidney care professionals are aware of the size and scope of the CKD epidemic and understand that improving identification and prevention is key to slowing the advance of kidney failure. The treatment of kidney disease is complicated by the disease’s lack of symptoms, allowing it to remain undetected until it has reached an advanced stage. Thankfully, a simple urine or blood test can reveal the presence of kidney disease. Particularly for high-risk individuals with diabetes, high blood pressure, who are over 60 years old or have a family history of kidney disease, regular testing facilitates the early detection of the disease that can prove to be a lifesaver for many of these patients.

Even in the face of the explosion of the kidney disease epidemic, our national response has lagged, and American patients have suffered as a result. In addition to the overdue improvements to identification and prevention of CKD, educating the nation on the ways to slow the progression of CKD – particularly among high-risk populations like diabetics and patients with high blood pressure – is essential to slowing the progression of the disease. Incorporating kidney disease education into diabetes education classes would improve understanding of CKD and preventive measures in the most at-risk population for experiencing kidney disease. Creating awareness and driving education should serve as the bedrocks for improving the quality of kidney care and the promotion of preventive measures within the United States.

The tremendous economic and societal implications of chronic kidney disease mean that action on these issues is pressing. In fact, the total cost to Medicare for treating CKD approached $100 billion in 2015, and, though some improvements have been made within the kidney care community, our collective response has not been proportional to the problem. Kidney Care Partners has worked in collaboration with lawmakers to introduce The Chronic Kidney Disease Improvement in Research & Treatment Act (H.R. 2644), which would, among other things, increase access to the Medicare Kidney Disease Education Benefit to increase the number of healthcare professionals qualified to provide kidney disease education services.

30 million people and $100 billion. Chronic kidney disease is a growing epidemic in the United States, and one that must be addressed through identification, prevention and education. The kidney care community knows this and has had an unimpeded view of the real-life consequences of neglecting patients with this disease. By enforcing regular testing standards and disseminating kidney disease education into the most at-risk populations, we will be able to improve the lives of millions of Americans and save billions of taxpayer dollars.