Problems with solutions: drowning in the brine of an inadequate knowledge base

Clin Nutr. 2001 Apr;20(2):125-30. doi: 10.1054/clnu.2000.0154.


Background & aims: We undertook a telephone questionnaire to determine current fluid prescribing practices and relevant knowledge among surgical preregistration house officers (PRHOs) and senior house officers (SHOs) working in 25 British hospitals.

Methods: One hundred PRHOs were surveyed within 10 days of starting their first job (Group A). Fifty other PRHOs were surveyed 6-8 weeks after starting their first job(Group B) along with 50 surgical SHOs (Group C). Outcome measures included responsibility for prescribing, knowledge of the composition of common intravenous fluids and the principles governing their use.

Results: PRHOs were responsible for prescribing in 89% of instances. Only 56% of respondents stated that fluid balance charts were checked on morning ward rounds. Less than half were aware of the sodium content of 0.9% saline or the daily sodium requirement. Although potassium supplements were usually correct, 25% of respondents prescribed two or more litres of 0.9% saline per day, which is far in excess of normal requirements. Although SHOs were more confident (P<0.0001), there was no significant difference between the three groups for most responses.

Conclusions: Inadequate knowledge and suboptimal prescribing of fluid and electrolytes is common. Undergraduate and postgraduate training in this basic patient management skill needs improvement, with particular emphasis on the practical aspects.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence / standards*
  • Education, Medical / standards*
  • Electrolytes / administration & dosage
  • Fluid Therapy*
  • Humans
  • Knowledge*
  • Medical Staff, Hospital*
  • Parenteral Nutrition
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Telephone
  • United Kingdom


  • Electrolytes