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Original article

Vol. 146 No. 2526 (2016)

Hypokalaemia in hospitalised patients

  • Angela Greco
  • Giovanni Rabito
  • Michela Pironi
  • Marco Bissig
  • Saida Parlato
  • Laura Andreocchi
  • Giorgia Bianchi
  • Marilù Poretti Guigli
  • Michael Llamas
  • Rita Monotti
  • Leander Sciolli
  • Franco Ravetta
  • Roberto Della Bruna
  • Anna Zasa
  • Daniela Stehrenberger
  • Olivier Giannini
  • Luca Gabutti
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2016;146:w14320


QUESTIONS UNDER STUDY: Hypokalaemia in inpatients is common, and is associated with morbidity and mortality. Its management is risky and not always effective. We launched an educational programme with the aim of increasing the rate of potassium normalisation during hospital stay, and of reducing unmonitored cases.

METHODS: The project consisted of three phases: (I) retrospective analysis on 26 471 patients hospitalised in 2012 in five acute care hospitals of southern Switzerland (Ente Ospedaliero Cantonale, EOC) with identification of improvement goals on a sample survey (588 cases of hypokalaemia); (II) revision of internal guidelines, and implementation of educational activities in one of the five hospitals (Ospedale Regionale di Locarno, ODL); (III) follow-up analysis on the 26 726 patients hospitalised in 2014 and second sampling to complete the evaluation of the efficacy of the intervention.

RESULTS: Phase I, ODL vs EOC: prevalence of hypokalaemia, 21.7 vs 23.2% (p <0.05); treated 53.1 vs 56.5% (not significant); normalisation 62.4 vs 61.1% (ns); absence of monitoring 18.3 vs 21.1% (p <0.05); time to normalisation 3.0 ± 2.7 vs 2.8 ± 2.4 days (ns); secondary hyperkalaemia 1.1 vs 1.4% (ns). Length of stay hypokalaemic vs normokalaemic 11.2 ± 11.7 vs 6.6 ± 7.9 days (p <0.001); falls 3.5 vs 1.7% (p <0.001), deaths 5.1 vs 3.1% (p <0.001). The severity/performance ratio suggested inefficiency. Phase III, ODL 2012 vs ODL 2014: treated 53.1 vs 75.7% (p <0.001); normalisation 62.4 vs 69.7% (p <0.01); absence of monitoring 20.1 vs 8.7 (p <0.01); time to normalisation 3.1 ± 2.7 vs 2.4 ± 2.6 days (ns); secondary hyperkalaemia 1.1 vs 1.8% (ns).

CONCLUSIONS: The management of hypokalaemia is characterised by dysfunctions; it can, however, be ameliorated by the implementation of internal guidelines and targeted educational activities. The length of hospital stay is increased in patients with hypokalaemia, shifting the expected length of hospital stay based on the Swiss Diagnosis Related Group classification.


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