Clinical rule-guided pharmacists' intervention in hospitalized patients with hypokalaemia: A time series analysis

Arthur T.M. Wasylewicz*, Erik H.M. Korsten, Toine C.G. Egberts, Rene J.E. Grouls

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


WHAT IS KNOWN AND OBJECTIVE: Physicians' response to moderate and severe hypokalaemia in hospitalized patients is frequently suboptimal, leading to increased risk of cardiac arrhythmias and sudden death. While actively alerting physicians on all critical care values using telephone or electronic pop-ups can improve response, it can also lead to alert fatigue and frustration due to non-specific and overdue alerts. Therefore, a new method was tested. A clinical rule built into a clinical decision support system (CDSS) generated alerts for patients with a serum potassium level (SPL) <2.9 mmol/L without a prescription for potassium supplementation. If the alert was deemed clinically relevant, a pharmacist contacted the physician. The aim of this study was to evaluate the impact of the clinical rule-guided pharmacists' intervention compared to showing passive alerts in the electronic health records on outcome in patients who developed hypokalaemia (<2.9 mmol/L) during hospitalization.

METHODS: A before (2007-2009) and after (2010-2017) study with time series design was performed. Pre-intervention, physicians were shown passive alerts for hypokalaemia in the electronic health records. During the intervention period, in addition to these passive alerts, a pharmacist provided the physician with a specific advice on patients with untreated hypokalaemia, guided by the generated alerts. Unique patients >18 years with SPL <2.9 mmol/L measured at least 24 hours after hospitalization in whom no potassium supplementation was initiated within 4 hours after measurement and normalization of SPL was not achieved within these 4 hours were included. Haemodialysis patients were excluded. The percentage of hypokalaemic patients with a subsequent prescription for potassium supplementation, time to subsequent potassium supplementation prescription, the percentage of patients who achieved normokalaemia (SPL ≥ 3.0 mmol/L), time to achieve normokalaemia and total duration of hospitalization were compared.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION: A total of 693 patients were included, of whom 278 participated in the intervention phase. The percentage of patients prescribed supplementation as well as time to prescription improved from 76.0% in 31.1 hours to 92.0% in 11.3 hours (P < .01). Time to achieve SPL ≥3.0 mmol/L improved, P < .009. No changes, however, were observed in the percentage of patients who achieved normokalaemia or time to reach normokalaemia, 87.5% in 65.2 hours pre-intervention compared to 90.2% (P = .69) in 64.0 hours (P = .71) in the intervention group. A non-significant decrease of 8.2 days was observed in the duration of hospitalization: 25.4 compared to 17.2 days (P = .29).

WHAT IS NEW AND CONCLUSION: Combining CDSS alerting with a pharmacist evaluation is an effective method to improve response rate, time to supplementation and time to initial improvement, defined as SPL ≥3.0 mmol/L. However, it showed no significant effect on the percentage of patients achieving normokalaemia, time to normokalaemia or hospitalization. The discrepancy between rapid supplementation and improvement on the one hand and failure to improve time to normokalaemia on the other warrants further study.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)520-529
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


  • clinical decision support systems
  • clinical rule
  • hypokalaemia
  • pharmacist
  • time series analysis


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