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evidence-based practice, hypokalemia, potassium





Purpose: The purpose of this triangulated study was to evaluate potassium protocols used in clinical practice.


Rationale: Hypokalemia occurs frequently in the clinical setting and can have serious consequences. It is further complicated by the fact that it has multiple causes and patient symptoms can range from asymptomatic to death. considering the complexity and potential seriousness of hypokalemia, it is important that treatment be appropriate.


Description of the Process: The triangulated approach included an examination of the empirical evidence, a comparison of potassium protocols currently in use, and an evaluation of the potential benefits and risks of using a potassium protocol in a sample of patients.


Outcome: There is wide variation in potassium protocols and no empirical evidence in support of or opposition to these protocols. An evaluation of the use of a potassium protocol in a sample of patients indicates that patients not on protocols are not being routinely treated according to general protocol potassium replacement recommendations.


Conclusions: The use of narrowly defined potassium protocols may lead to overtreatment or incorrect treatment in the complex setting of hypokalemia.


Implications for Nursing Practice: Findings suggest the need for validation of clinically significant hypokalemia, the addition of other electrolyte measures when evaluating and treating hypokalemia, and the use of routine serum potassium levels and maintenance of serum potassium levels equal to or more than 4.0 mmol/L in certain patient populations. Most important, the etiology of hypokalemia, not used in qualifying criteria on any of the potassium protocols examined, should form the basis for treatment.