Effect of a computerized alert on the management of hypokalemia in hospitalized patients

Arch Intern Med. 2003 Jan 27;163(2):200-4. doi: 10.1001/archinte.163.2.200.


Background: Electrolyte abnormalities, including hypokalemia, are frequently encountered among hospitalized patients. Their management, when carefully audited, reveals major shortcomings.

Objective: To evaluate the effect of a computerized alert on the management of severe hypokalemia in hospitalized patients.

Methods: All patients who experienced severe hypokalemia (serum potassium levels <3.0 mEq/L) during their hospitalization at Hadassah Medical Center (a 1000-bed teaching institution on 2 campuses in Jerusalem, Israel) were included in the study. The study intervention was a computerized alert consisting of a flashing screen or printed warning for patients with serum potassium levels below 3.0 mEq/L, visible whenever an individual patient's or entire ward's results were accessed on any hospital computer. Using a previously validated computerized audit technique, we analyzed the management of hypokalemia 6 months before and 6 months after implementation of the alert intervention.

Results: Comparing outcomes before and after the intervention, nonmeasurement of a subsequent serum potassium level after an initial low value decreased by 36.1% (P =.08). Failure to correct the serum potassium level to above 3.5 mEq/L during the hospitalization decreased by 28.6% (P =.02). Discharge from the hospital with a subnormal serum potassium level decreased by 17.2% (P =.06).

Conclusions: A computerized alert system improved the management of hypokalemia in a tertiary care hospital. This was achieved at minimal cost and with no evidence of harm. The computerized audit based on a laboratory information system is an efficient tool for evaluating this intervention.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypokalemia / therapy*
  • Israel
  • Laboratories, Hospital / organization & administration*
  • Male
  • Medical Records Systems, Computerized*
  • Middle Aged