Potassium supplement usage in a general hospital



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Hyperkalemia may result from many causes and may be life-threatening. One cause of hyperkalemia is overdosage with potassium supplements. It is therefore important that patients receiving potassium supplements be monitored to prevent overdosage. The present study was conducted to observe the frequency of use of potassium supplements and to monitor the recorded serum potassium levels of patients in an effort to determine the prescribing habits of physicians regarding potassium supplements on general medical wards. The pharmacist, working in the clinical setting, may use this data to help improve patient care. A three month study was conducted on three general medical wards of a short term, large, general hospital. Each of the study wards has 38 beds and two medical teams. Each medical team is responsible for approximately one-half of the patients on the ward. The medical charts of all patients assigned to the study ward and medical team during the study period were monitored. The patient charts were separated into two groups. Group 1 consisted of those charts in which serum potassium levels were recorded as below or above the hospital normal (3.5 to 5.0 mEq./L.) and/or charts of patients who received a potassium supplement. Group 2 consisted of those charts meeting neither of the two above mentioned criteria. Data were recorded from the patients' charts in an effort to determine the frequency of usage of potassium supplements, and the prescribing habits of the physicians regarding these supplements. The study showed that the use of potassium supplements on the three general medical wards was high. Potassium chloride was the most frequently prescribed of the drugs. No prescribing habits of physicians regarding potassium supplements could be determined from the results of this study. Potassium supplements were administered to patients with a low, normal, and high serum potassium level. It was found that the potassium supplements were administered to some patients whose recorded serum potassium level prior to the administration of the supplement was above the hospital normal. Contrariwise, some patients who had recorded serum potassium levels below the hospital normal did not receive a potassium supplement. This indicates that the physician does not totally rely on the patient's serum potassium level when he is determining whether or not to administer a potassium supplement to the patient. The pharmacist, working in the clinical setting should be aware of both the prescribing habits of the physician and the problems associated with the administration of potassium supplements. The study also showed that some hospitalized patients were overtreated with potassium supplements. The pharmacist working in the clinical setting must be able to determine whether or not a patient needs a potassium supplement. He must also help monitor the serum potassium levels of patients receiving potassium supplements to avoid administration of excess potassium to the patient. The hospital pharmacist is in an ideal position to function as a monitor of drug use and therefore to help improve the quality of patient care.



Potassium in the body., Dietary supplements.