The need to educate patients in order to enable them to participate in making appropriate choices for all therapeutic options in end stage renal disease would seem obvious yet there are many barriers to providing such information. We measured 'perceived knowledge' of the therapeutic options for end stage renal disease in a cohort of patients with chronic kidney disease in established treatment programs. A self administered questionnaire was given to 676 patients with stage 3-5 chronic kidney disease as part of the CRIOS study designed to identify trends in practice patterns and outcomes over a 4 year period. The median patient age was 66, about three-fourths were Caucasian and almost half were diabetic. When patients were asked to rate their level of knowledge, about one-third reported limited or no understanding of their chronic kidney disease and no awareness regarding their treatment options. A significant and substantial number of patients indicated they had no familiarity with transplant, hemodialysis, and continuous ambulatory or automated peritoneal dialysis. Perceived knowledge improved with the progression of kidney disease and frequency of nephrology visits; however, only about half of patients with 4 or more nephrology appointments in the prior year reported knowing of hemodialysis, continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis or transplant. Age, gender and disease had no impact on levels of patient knowledge, but African-Americans reported having significantly less understanding than Asians or Caucasians. These findings suggest that the lack of perception concerning the treatment options chronic kidney and end stage renal disease reflects, in part, problems with the education of patients by nephrologists and not a lack of referral of these patients to nephrologists for care. The discrepancy of perceived knowledge between African-Americans and other races needs special attention.