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Development and validation of a French patient-based health-related quality of life instrument in kidney transplant: the ReTransQoL



In the absence of a French health-related quality of life (QOL) instrument for renal transplant recipients (RTR), we developed a self-administered questionnaire: the ReTransQol (RTQ).


This questionnaire was developed using classical methodology in the following three phases over a two-year period: Item Generation phase, identifying all possible items having adverse impact on the QOL of RTR, Item Reduction phase, selecting the most pertinent items related to QOL, and Validation phase, analyzing the psychometric properties. All RTR involved in these phases were over 18 and were randomly selected from a transplant registry.


Item generation was conducted through 24 interviews of RTR. The first version of RTQ (85 items) was sent to 225 randomized RTR, and 40 items were eliminated at the end of the item reduction phase. The second version of RTQ (45 items) was validated from 130 RTR, resulting in the RTQ final version. The factor analysis identified a structure of five factors: Physical Health (PH), Mental Health (MH), Medical Care (MC), Fear of losing the Graft (FG) and Treatment (TR). The psychometric properties of RTQ were satisfactory. Comparison between known groups from the literature confirmed the construct validity: patients without employment or living alone have lower QOL scores, and women have lower QOL scores than men. RTQ was more responsive than SF36 to detect changes in the QOL of RTR who were hospitalized secondary to their renal disease in the 4 weeks preceding their inclusion.


According to French public health priorities, RTQ appears to be a reliable and valid questionnaire.


Health-Related Quality of Life (QOL) measurements have become an important outcome measure in addition to morbidity and mortality rates, both in population health assessment and in clinical trials [1, 2]. QOL indicators are based on the completion of standardized and well-validated questionnaires, addressing the impact of health status in individuals, as perceived by themselves through physical, emotional, mental, social and behavioral components [3]. Formal Quality of Life (QOL) analyses have defined the patient's role as essential to the transplant process, providing health care professionals with information regarding the psychosocial and physical impact of kidney transplantation [4, 5].

Kidney transplantation is the therapy of choice for end-stage renal failure when focusing on survival transplantation [69] and also provides the greatest QOL, whose measurement has become an important outcome parameter [1016].

Few specific questionnaires of QOL have been developed [1719] for Renal Transplant Recipients (RTR), but they were not validated or available in French. Among questionnaires adapted to the general population, SF36 remains the most widely used in studies of QOL [10, 2027]. We purposefully did not make a direct transcultural validation of one of the existent questionnaires for RTR because some dimensions were lacking in these questionnaires, such as those related to medical care. Additionally, specific questionnaires, particularly the ESRS-CL [18] were, in our opinion, too centered on symptomatology and drug side effects. Lastly, existing questionnaires require face-to-face administration, when on the contrary we purposefully wished to develop a self-administered questionnaire, an important approach of this study.

This paper describes the development and validation of this questionnaire: The ReTransQol (RTQ).


Study Design for the scale development included three phases over a two-year period:

Phase 1: item generation, identifying all possible items having adverse impact on the QOL of RTR,

Phase 2: item reduction, selecting the most pertinent items related to QOL,

Phase 3: validation of the psychometric properties of RTQ.


For each phase, RTR aged over 18 and having received their graft at least 6 months prior were included. RTR who were non-French speaking, unable to answer or lost to follow-up were excluded.

For each phase, RTR were randomly selected from the registry of the transplant center of Marseille, avoiding those included in previous phases. The study was approved by the local medical ethics committee. All patients gave informed consent to participate.

The procedure for data collection

For each phase, the procedure of data collection varied:

For the item generation phase, face-to-face interviews were recorded and transcribed, collecting individual views on health perception, which identified dimensions of QOL that were most affected by renal transplantation. An interview guide was based upon a structured literature review [10]. Interviews of new patients ended when data saturation had been achieved.

For item reduction, questionnaires were sent to the patient's residence; non-respondents were followed-up by a second letter three weeks later, then by phone if no response. Three questionnaires were involved: RTQ V1 (first version), socio-demographic questionnaire and a clinical questionnaire, based on medical records and completed by nephrologists.

For the validation phase, the procedure was identical to the precedent phase, but was done twice, at the start period (M0), and 6 months later (M6); additional questionnaires were utilized (SF36 and a validated stressful life events scale).

Data collection instruments

Except the RTQ, which is this study's specifically-developed instrument, the following instruments were used:

SF36 is a generic QOL scale consisting of 36 items describing eight dimensions: Physical Function (PF), Social Function (SF), Role Function – Physical (RFP), Role Function – Emotional (RFE), Emotional Well-being (EW), Vitality (VT), Bodily Pain (BP) and General Health Perception (GHP). Each dimension ranges from 0 to 100; the higher the score, the better the perceived state of health [28].

A validated stressful life events scale is a checklist of stressful life events occurring in a given time period (for the present study, period M0–M6). To complete the checklist, patients quoted the events that occurred during the period, assigning to each item a level from 0 (no stress impact) to 4 (maximal impact) [29].

Socio-demographicquestionnaires included items on age, sex, living arrangement, employment status, and familial status.

Clinical questionnaire included etiology of end-stage renal failure, hospital admissions in the past year, comorbidities, treatments, type of previous Renal Replacement Therapy (RRT) (hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis), length of time on RRT, any rejection episodes, time elapsed since transplantation, and any previous unsuccessful kidney transplantation. Some questions were added to the questionnaire for the last phase of validation.

Statistical methods

Item generation

Each transcript was examined independently by two researchers. Data derived from verbatim transcription and field notes were initially summarized and analyzed. Textual data were reduced to concepts through open coding and logical groups of concepts were clustered into categories, and then reorganized into a pool of items. These items were discussed by a combined group of experts and patients to test their comprehensiveness and acceptability, and later encoded.

Item reduction

This phase selected the most clinically relevant items, relative to response rate, inter-item correlation, and floor or ceiling effects. The items were eliminated in cases of missing values exceeding 5%, high inter-item correlation (r > 0.70), or floor or ceiling effects, homoegeneously answered on response levels (over 70% for one response level). Moreover, a first factor analysis established which of the provisional RTQ items belonged to dimensions and should be retained. Items which loaded < 0.40 for all the factors were deleted. Questions were weighted equally, and the individual's score for each of the 5 dimensions was obtained by computing each item's mean score within every dimension. A missing scale score was substituted if over half of the items in each scale were missing. All dimensions were linearly transformed to a 0–100 scale, with 100 indicating the most favorable QOL.


Validation of the RTQ was undertaken through the following phases:

Item level analysis

Feasibility was measured by using the percentage of missing values for each item and item-response distribution. Item-internal consistency was assessed by correlating each item with its dimension (using the recommended standard for correlation ≥ 0.40 [30, 31]). Item-discriminant validity was assessed by determining the extent to which items correlate more highly with dimensions they are hypothesized to represent than with different dimensions.

Internal consistency reliability of Scale scores

Cronbach's alpha coefficients were computed to estimate the internal consistency reliability of each dimension score. A reliability of at least 0.70 is recommended to compare groups of patients [32, 33].

Construct validity

Construct validity was examined by factor analysis with varimax rotation, which tested the underlying dimensions of the 45-item RTQ. Correlation of RTQ scales with the score of SF36's same dimensions was studied.

Known group validity explores the questionnaire's ability to show differences between patient groups with different health status and/or characteristics. We used variables identified in the literature: age, sex, employment status, familial status, BMI, treatment, comorbidities, hospitalization, and previously failed transplant [25, 34, 35]. We specify results quantified only for RTQ and indicate the differences found with SF36.

Content validity

Patients were requested to point out important domains of their life that were not mentioned in the RTQ by a final open-ended question. Their responses and comments were analyzed. Cognitive debriefing was performed with a subsample of 10 patients.

Reproducibility and sensitivity to change

The analyses of reproducibility and sensitivity to change were performed on patient data between the time periods M0 and M6. These patients were categorized retrospectively related to data on changes in health status and stressful life events during the period of follow-up. Physicians encoded changes in health status in three modalities: stabilization, degradation or improvement of health status. Patients were classified as undergoing a stressful life event according to their responses to the "Stressful life events scale." Two categories were formed: those with a stressful life event (coded ≥ 3), and those without (< 3).

The test-retest reliability of RTQ was assessed for patients whose health status was declared unchanged between M0 and M6, and for those without stressful events. Intraclass Correlation Coefficients (ICC) were computed between scale scores for the two assessments (≥ 0.70 considered satisfactory) [36]. Sensitivity to change was assessed for patients with a degradation or improvement of their health status and/or for those who had a stressful event between the two time periods. RTQ scores were compared using the paired t-test.

Figure 1 summarizes the different phases of development of RTQ.

Figure 1
figure 1

The different phases of development of ReTransQol


Item generation phase

An initial pool of 102 questions was generated by content analysis of 24 recorded interviews conducted with RTR; the QOL domains most commonly affected by renal transplant were identified. The set of 102 items was discussed by a pluridisciplinary group (nephrologists, interviewers, methodologists and patients belonging to the national association of end stage renal disease patients) to test their comprehensiveness and acceptability, prompting the rejection of 17 items. This group encoded the first version of RTQ, comprised of the provisional 85 items on a five to six-point ordinal scale, according to two reference time periods : during the previous 4 weeks, or since transplantation.

Item reduction phase

A sample of 225 RTR was recruited for this phase, and 186 responded (response rate 82.6%). The respondents' socio-demographic and medical characteristics are presented in tables 1 and 2. Items were eliminated due to missing values (n = 23), floor or ceiling effects (n = 5), low factor loading on initial factor analysis (n = 3), or a high inter-correlation coefficient (n = 9). Finally, 40 items were rejected during this phase. Items and responses modalities are presented in Table 7.

Table 1 Test Sample Characteristics
Table 2 Medical Data

Validation phase

A sample of 130 RTR, different from those involved in the item reduction phase, was randomly chosen for the validation step study; 104 patients were included (response rate 80%, Tables 1 and 2).

Item level analysis and internal consistency reliability scores

In accordance with the results of item selection, all response levels of each item were homoegeneously answered. At the item level, missing data did not exceed 5%. The acceptability of RTQ was satisfactory (77% completion). Table 3 presents results of internal item consistencies.

Table 3 Internal Consistencies
Table 7 Items and responses modalities

Construct validity

- Factor analysis

The factor analysis with varimax rotation identified a structure of five factors, which accounts for 46.3% of the total variance (Table 4). The content of each dimension was entitled the following: Physical Health (PH, ten items), Medical Care (MC, eleven items), Fear of losing the Graft (FG, six items), Treatment (TR, nine items) and Mental Health (MH, nine items).

Table 4 Dimension and factor loadings identified using principal component analysis and the orthogonal varimax rotation (only factor loading >0.3 are mentioned)
- Correlation between SF36 and RTQ

Positive correlations were found between RTQ scores and SF36 scores. The dimension scores of RTQ had medium to high correlation (> 0.6) with those of SF36 assessing similar dimensions: PH-RTQ with PF-SF36, RFP-SF36, VT-SF36, and MH-RTQ with EW-SF36. The other RTQ dimension scores: MC-RTQ, FG-RTQ and TR-RTQ were not highly correlated with SF36 (Table 5).

Table 5 Correlation between RetransQol and SF36
- Known Group Validity

Table 6 presents a summary of variables associated with a decreased or increased QOL.

Table 6 Known Group Validity

Patients living alone reported significantly lower scores on the dimension MH (63.2 ± 2.2 vs. 71.4 ± 14.9, p < 0.05). Patients without employment reported lower scores on dimension PH (53.3 ± 19 vs. 65.6 ± 16.9, p < 0.05) and MH (65.8 ± 17.7 vs. 74.3 ± 15.4, p < 0.05), and for all dimensions of SF36 except EW. Women reported lower scores on dimension TR (62.90 ± 14.7 vs. 67.9 ± 15.6, p < 0.05). Measures of RTQ were not influenced by age, yet patients over 55 reported significantly lower scores for SF36 on dimensions PF, SF, RFP, RFE and BP.

The RTR hospitalized during the previous 12 months reported significantly lower scores on dimension PH for RTQ (51.9 ± 18.8 vs. 63.9 ± 17.9, p < 0.01) and for SF36 on dimension PF, RFP, RFE and GHP. However, patients hospitalized for transplant complications reported significantly lower scores, for RTQ only on the dimensions PH (51.8 ± 18.8 vs. 69.96 ± 10.2, p < 0.01) and MC (60.7 ± 12.2 vs. 65.9 ± 10.2, p < 0.01), and not for SF36. The period of time since transplantation was significantly correlated with the score of RTQ on the TR dimension (r = 0.22, p < 0.01) and score of SF36 on the BP dimension.

RTR with a previous unsuccessful kidney transplant reported higher scores for RTQ on dimension FG (66.7 ± 16.7 vs. 52.4 ± 20.9, p < 0.05) and dimension TR (79 ± 6.6 vs. 64.3 ± 15.5, p < 0.01), and for SF36 on dimensions VT and GHP. Measures of RTQ and SF36 were neither influenced by the kind of dialysis, nor the duration of dialysis, nor a possible rejection episode.

Considering RTQ-specific results, Body Mass Index showed a significant negative correlation with RTQ score on the dimension PH (r = -0.258, p < 0.05), and smokers reported lower scores on the dimension PH (51.5 ± 19.7 vs. 63.1 ± 19.5, p < 0.01). Patients with Diabetes Mellitus reported significantly lower RTQ scores on dimension MC (38.4 ± 21.2, p < 0.05) and FG (38.4 ± 21.2 vs. 58.9 ± 19.7, p < 0.01). No difference was found for the SF36 in all of these characteristics.

Patients with a stressful life event reported lower scores on RTQ for the dimension PH (56.4 ± 20.3 vs. 68.8 ± 17.2, p < 0.01) and MH (65 ± 10 vs. 74.2 ± 16.7, p < 0.021), and lower scores for SF36 for the dimensions SF, EW, and VT.

Content validity

A cognitive debriefing was performed with a group of 15 RTR, members of the national association of End-Stage Renal Disease patients. The group confirmed the pertinence of the five dimensions, and the relevance of the items. The dimension of "Medical Care," which is not evoked in other QOL RTR-specific questionnaires, seems to be of high importance in relation to the patients' QOL.

Reproducibility and sensitivity to change

For patients estimated as clinically stable between M0 and M6 (n = 56; 83.6%), high correlation coefficients (CC) between scale scores for the two assessments were all significant (p < 0.001): PH = 0.82, MH = 0.73, MC = 0.63, TR = 0.76 and FG = 0.76.

For patients without stressful life events between M0 and M6 (n = 29; 43.3%), high CC between scale scores for the two assessments were significant (p < 0.001) for four dimensions: PH = 0.80, MH = 0.70, TR = 0.79 and FG = 0.69. For the dimension MC, CC is lower (0.380) but significant (p < 0.019).

For patients who were clinically stable and without stressful life events (n = 23; 34.3%), the CC are also high and significant between M0 and M6 (p < 0.001) for four dimensions (PH = 0.79, MH = 0.72, TR = 0.82 and FG = 0.68), and lower for the dimension MC (0.39), but significant (p < 0.027).

Among the 67 patients followed between M0 and M6, 8 patients showed deterioration in health status, 38 patients experienced a stressful life event and 4 patients showed both of these characteristics. Significant differences were neither found for the five dimensions of RTQ nor dimensions of SF36 among any of these groups of patients.


The psychometric properties of RTQ are satisfactory with an exception for the sensitivity to change, due to the low number of subjects with change in health status during the period of the study. Subject acceptability was excellent with a low percentage of missing data. The five dimensions were confirmed by the results of the principal component analysis. Some items (nine out of forty-five) had, for their specific dimension, a factor loading under the recommended threshold of 0.40 [30, 31] and/or cross-loading. Nevertheless, they were retained due to their clinical relevance in terms of content validity. For the same reasons, the item "stress" (Q23) remained in the MH dimension, despite its higher loading in the PH dimension. This classification provided better results for reliability, content validity and clinical validity.

The RTQ revealed specific dimensions of QOL in renal transplant recipients (RTR). The dimensions "Physical Health" (PH) and "Mental Health" (MH) of the RTQ are similar to those of the SF36, but three other dimensions give specificity to the questionnaire: Fear of losing the Graft (FG), Treatment (TR) and Medical Care (MC). These concerns are found in other questionnaires published for RTR [1719], but generally not individualized as specific dimensions. For example, the fear of losing the graft is included in the Mental Health dimension in Franke's questionnaire, the ESRD Checklist [18], and is a specified dimension in Laupacis' questionnaire entitled "Uncertain/Fear" [19]. In the same way, items concerning treatment are always present, though often limited to the side effects of drugs. For example, Laupacis' questionnaire presented a dimension called "Appearance," which specified the adverse effects of immunosuppressive medication like excessive hair growth, excessive appetite, weight and acne [19]. In Franke's questionnaire, treatment is present in two dimensions called "side effects of corticosteroids" and "increased growth of gums and hair," which are two specific effects of calcineurin inhibitors [18]. Conversely to these questionnaires, RTQ proposes a dimension of treatment which is more holistic. We think that questionnaires which list side effects, many of which are not specified, could possibly become obsolete as treatments evolve. Instead, we included items about the embarrassment caused by the side effects of drugs, and questions about the difficulties of compliance. Finally, the patient's relationship with both the doctor and the medical team ("Medical Care" of RTQ) is not dealt with by other validated questionnaires, even though patients attribute importance to medical information and health education.

Comparisons between different demographic subgroups confirm previous empirical works showing their variations [25, 34, 35]. For example, results confirm that patients without employment or living alone have lower QOL scores. Also, women have lower QOL scores in comparison with men, only for the dimension of "treatment." This is probably in relation to the impact of immunosuppressive treatments on the body image [18, 25, 34, 35].

RTQ was more responsive to detect changes in QOL for patients hospitalized for renal disease, for those with a high BMI, or comorbidities, especially Diabetes Mellitus. Although age was found in the literature to be a predictive factor of QOL, no significant correlation was found between RTQ and age. But most QOL studies focusing on RTR have assessed QOL with generic questionnaires [10], and among studies with QOL-specific questionnaires, its correlation with age is not precisely discussed [1719]. Probably age is far more a general determinant of quality of life than it is specific to kidney transplantation. The RTQ can be utilized alone or in complement with the SF36, according to the clinician's objective. The interest of using the SF36 in complement with RTQ essentially is to be able to compare levels of QOL between RTR and other groups of patients (from different countries, or with other pathologies, etc.).


This study reported the stages of development and validation of a QOL questionnaire for RTR, developed in response to a lack of any validated instrument for those patients in the French language. The quality of life for patients with chronic diseases has become a public health priority in France, especially since the new Public Health Law [37].

Psychometric properties allow this questionnaire to be used for monitoring the impact of different treatments on the renal transplant population, more effectively than previously possible. In addition, regular use of the RTQ can complement current evaluation of "good transplantation practice," while highlighting problem areas for specific intervention. We envision continuing this work by the follow-up of a prospective cohort to study the sensitivity to change and the clinically significant threshold. In the future, we plan to validate the questionnaire in English.



Body Mass Index


Correlation Coefficient


End of Stage Renal Disease


Health-related Quality of life


Intraclass Correlation Coefficients


Renal Replacement Therapy


Renal Transplant Recipients




"Short Form – 36" questionnaire.

The abbreviations for the dimensions of RTQ are PH:

Physical Health


Mental Health


Medical Care


Fear of losing the Graft



The abbreviations for dimensions of SF36 are PF:

Physical Function


Social Function


Role Function-Physical


Role Function-Emotional


Emotional Well-being




Bodily Pain


General Health Perception.


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We thank Galadriel Bonnel for the revision of the manuscript in English.

We thank FNAIR (National association of ESRD patients), especially Claudine Fernandez, for the participation in the project.

This study has been supported and funded by INSERM [Institut National de la santé et de la Recherche Médicale] and the Agence de la Biomédecine as part of a more global project concerning the development of a research network about ESRD. Funds were used to pay the printing of questionnaires, mailing costs, data management and the English translation of the draft.

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Correspondence to Stéphanie Gentile.

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The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors' contributions

SG conceived the study and its design, coordinated the data management, analyzed and interpreted the data, drafted the manuscript; EJ participated in the design of the study, collected the data and performed the statistical analysis BD and VM: participated in the design of the study, collected medical data and participated to the interpretation of data RS et YB revised the manuscript critically for important intellectual content and have given final approval of the version to be published

All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Gentile, S., Jouve, E., Dussol, B. et al. Development and validation of a French patient-based health-related quality of life instrument in kidney transplant: the ReTransQoL. Health Qual Life Outcomes 6, 78 (2008).

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