Electrolyte Analysis and Replacement: Challenging a Paradigm in Surgical Patients

Kyle Dammann, Mary Timmons, Mitchell Edelman, Catherine A. Pierce, Emily Higdon, Andrew C. Bernard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Postoperative patients are susceptible to alterations in electrolyte homeostasis. Although electrolytes are replaced in critically ill patients, stable asymptomatic non-intensive care unit (ICU) patients often receive treatment of abnormal electrolytes. We hypothesize there is no proven benefit in asymptomatic patients. In 2016, using the electronic medical records and pharmacy database at a university academic medical center, we conducted a retrospective cost analysis of the frequency and cost of electrolyte analysis (basic metabolic panel [BMP], ionized calcium [Ca], magnesium [Mg], and phosphorus [P]) and replacement (potassium chloride [KCl], Mg, oral/iv Ca, oral/iv P) in perioperative patients. Patients without an oral diet order, with creatinine more than 1.4, age less than 16 years, admitted to the ICU, or with length of stay of more than 1 week were excluded. Nursing costs were calculated as a fraction of hourly wages per laboratory order or electrolyte replacement. One hundred thirteen patients met our criteria over 11 months. Mean length of stay was 4 days; mean age was 54 years; and creatinine was 0.67 ± 0.3. Electrolyte analysis laboratory orders (n = 1,045) totaled $6,978, and BMP was most frequently ordered accounting for 36% of laboratory costs. In total, 683 doses of electrolytes cost the pharmacy $1,780. Magnesium was most frequently replaced, followed by KCl, P, and Ca. Nursing cost associated with electrolyte analysis/replacement was $7,782. There is little evidence to support electrolyte analysis and replacement in stable asymptomatic noncritically ill patients, but their prevalence and cost ($146/case) in this study were substantial. Basic metabolic panels, pharmacy charges for potassium, and nursing staff costs accounted for the most significant portion of the total cost. Considering these data, further research should determine whether these practices are warranted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-145
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Trauma Nursing
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Lippincott Williams and Wilkins. All rights reserved.


  • Critically ill
  • Electrolytes
  • Hemostasis
  • Hospital costs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency
  • Critical Care
  • Advanced and Specialized Nursing


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