Context: Hemolyzed specimens delay clinical laboratory results, proliferate unnecessary testing, complicate physician decisions, injure patients indirectly, and increase health care costs.
Objective: To determine quality improvement practices when hemolysis occurs.
Design: We used the College of American Pathologists (CAP) Survey Program to distribute a Q-Probes-type questionnaire about hemolysis practices to CAP Chemistry Survey participants.
Results: Of 3495 participants sent the questionnaire, 846 (24%) responded. Although 85%, 69%, and 55% of participants had written hemolysis policies for potassium, lactate dehydrogenase, and glucose, respectively, only a few (46%, 40%, and 40%) had standardized hemolysis reports between their primary and secondary chemistry analyzers for these 3 analytes. Most participants (70%) had not attempted to validate the manufacturers' hemolysis data for these 3 analytes; however, essentially all who tried, succeeded. Forty-nine percent of participants had taken corrective action to reduce hemolysis during the past year and used, on average, 2.4 different actions, with collection and distribution of hemolysis data to administrative leadership (57%), troubleshooting outliers (55%), retraining phlebotomist (53%), and establishment of quality improvement teams among the laboratory and at problem locations (37%) being the most common actions. When asked to assess their progress in reducing hemolysis, 70% noted slow to no progress, and 2% gave up on improvement. Upon measuring potassium, lactate dehydrogenase, and glucose, approximately 60% of participants used the same specimen flag for hemolysis as for lipemia and icterus.
Conclusions: Hemolysis decreases the quality and increases the cost of health care. Practices for measuring, reporting, and decreasing hemolysis rates need improvement.