Original Research

Impact of potassium test sample rejections on routine laboratory service, South Africa

Sarah McAlpine, Bettina Chale-Matsau
African Journal of Laboratory Medicine | Vol 12, No 1 | a2239 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/ajlm.v12i1.2239 | © 2023 Sarah McAlpine, Bettina Chale-Matsau | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 19 June 2023 | Published: 22 December 2023

About the author(s)

Sarah McAlpine, Department of Chemical Pathology, National Health Laboratory Service, Pretoria, South Africa
Bettina Chale-Matsau, Department of Chemical Pathology, National Health Laboratory Service, Pretoria; and Department of Chemical Pathology, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, South Africa


Background: Accurate potassium measurements are necessary for effective clinical management of hyperkalaemia. Pre-analytical factors may affect laboratory measurements, leading to erroneous results and inappropriate patient management and negatively impact the efficiency and finances of laboratories and hospitals.

Objective: This study evaluated the impact of rejected potassium test requests on laboratory service.

Methods: We conducted a retrospective descriptive study to assess potassium test data at a public laboratory in Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa, using samples collected from an academic hospital, peripheral hospitals, and outpatient clinics between January 2018 to December 2018. We assessed the relationship between reasons for rejection and health facility type, as well as financial implications for the laboratory.

Results: The potassium result rejection rate was 15.1% (29 806 samples), out of the 197 405 requests received. The most common reasons for rejection were old sample (> 1 day old) (41.4%; 12 348 rejections) and haemolysis (38.2%; 11 398 rejections). The most frequent reason for rejections at the central, academic hospital was haemolysis (42.0%), while old sample was the most common reason for rejection at peripheral hospitals (43.4%; 4119/9493 requests) and outpatient health facilities (57.2%; 7208/12 605 requests) (p = 0.022). The total cost of potassium sample rejection over the study period was substantial, given the resource constraints in this setting.

Conclusion: Peripheral hospitals and outpatient departments accounted for the majority of rejected potassium testing results, possibly resulting from delays in transportation; causing substantial financial impact on the laboratory. Improved sample collection, handling, and expedited transportation are recommended.

What this study adds: This study highlights the importance of appropriate sample collection and handling and the undesirable consequences of non-adherence to these pre-analytical considerations.


hyperkalaemia; pseudohyperkalaemia; pre-analytical factors; result rejection; sample rejection

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 3: Good health and well-being


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