Usability Testing of the Kidney Score Platform to Enhance Communication About Kidney Disease in Primary Care Settings: Qualitative Think-Aloud Study

Delphine S. Tuot, Susan T. Crowley, Lois A. Katz, Joseph Leung, Delly K. Alcantara-Cadillo, Christopher Ruser, Elizabeth Talbot-Montgomery, Joseph A. Vassalotti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Patient awareness of chronic kidney disease (CKD) is low in part due to suboptimal testing for CKD among those at risk and lack of discussions about kidney disease between patients and clinicians. To bridge these gaps, the National Kidney Foundation developed the Kidney Score Platform, which is a web-based series of tools that includes resources for health care professionals as well as an interactive, dynamic patient-facing component that includes a brief questionnaire about risk factors for kidney disease, individualized assessment of risk for developing CKD, and self-management tools to manage one’s kidney disease. Objective: The aim of this study is to perform usability testing of the patient component of the Kidney Score platform among veterans with and at risk for kidney disease and among clinicians working as primary care providers in Veterans Affairs administration. Methods: Think-aloud exercises were conducted, during which participants (veterans and clinicians) engaged with the platform while verbalizing their thoughts and making their perceptions, reasonings, and decision points explicit. A usability facilitator observed participants’ behaviors and probed selectively to clarify their comprehension of the tool’s instructions, content, and overall functionality. Thematic analysis on the audio-recording transcripts was performed, focusing on positive attributes, negative comments, and areas that required facilitator involvement. Results: Veterans (N=18) were 78% (14/18) male with a mean age of 58.1 years. Two-thirds (12/18) were of non-White race/ethnicity, 28% (5/18) had laboratory evidence of CKD without a formal diagnosis, and 50% (9/18) carried a diagnosis of hypertension or diabetes. Clinicians (N=19) were 29% (5/17) male, 30% (5/17) of non-White race/ethnicity, and had a mean of 17 (range 4-32) years of experience. Veterans and clinicians easily navigated the online tool and appreciated the personalized results page as well as the inclusion of infographics to deliver key educational messages. Three major themes related to content and communication about risk for CKD emerged from the think-aloud exercises: (1) tension between lay and medical terminology when discussing kidney disease and diagnostic tests, (2) importance of linking general information to concrete self-management actions, and (3) usefulness of the tool as an adjunct to the office visit to prepare for patient-clinician communication. Importantly, these themes were consistent among interviews involving both veterans and clinicians. Conclusions: Veterans and clinicians both thought that the Kidney Score Platform would successfully promote communication and discussion about kidney disease in primary care settings. Tension between using medical terminology that is used regularly by clinicians versus lay terminology to promote CKD awareness was a key challenge, and knowledge of this can inform the development of future CKD educational materials.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere40001
JournalJMIR Formative Research
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2022


  • CKD
  • awareness
  • chronic kidney disease
  • health education
  • kidney
  • patient education
  • renal
  • self-management
  • think aloud
  • usability


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