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Serum lithium test requesting across three UK regions: an evaluation of adherence to monitoring guidelines

Parfitt, Ceri; Duff, Christopher J.; Scargill, Jonathan; Green, Lewis; Holland, David; Heald, Adrian H.; Fryer, Anthony A.

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Ceri Parfitt

Christopher J. Duff

Jonathan Scargill

Lewis Green

David Holland

Adrian H. Heald


BACKGROUND: Bipolar disorder is the fourth most common mental health condition, affecting ~?1% of UK adults. Lithium is an effective treatment for prevention of relapse and hospital admission, and is widely recommended as a first-line treatment. We previously showed in other areas that laboratory testing patterns are variable with sub-optimal conformity to guidance. We therefore examined lithium results and requesting patterns relative to monitoring recommendations. METHODS: Data on serum lithium levels and intervals between requests were extracted from Clinical Biochemistry laboratory information systems at the University Hospitals of North Midlands, Salford Royal Foundation Trust and Pennine Acute Hospitals from 2012 to 2018 (46,555 requests; 3371 individuals). Data were examined with respect to region/source of request, age and sex. RESULTS: Across all sites, lithium levels on many requests were outside the recommended UK therapeutic range (0.4-0.99?mmol/L); 19.2% below the range and 6.1% above the range (median [Li]: 0.60?mmol/L). A small percentage were found at the extremes (3.2% at <?0.1?mmol/L, 1.0% at =1.4?mmol/L). Most requests were from general practice (56.3%) or mental health units (34.4%), though those in the toxic range (=1.4?mmol/L) were more likely to be from secondary care (63.9%). For requesting intervals, there was a distinct peak at 12?weeks, consistent with guidance for those stabilised on lithium therapy. There was no peak at 6?months, as recommended for those aged <?65?years on unchanging therapy, though re-test intervals in this age group were more likely to be longer. There was a peak at 0-7?days, reflecting those requiring closer monitoring (e.g. treatment initiation, toxicity). However, for those with initial lithium concentrations within the BNF range (0.4-0.99?mmol/L), 69.4% of tests were requested outside expected testing frequencies. CONCLUSIONS: Our data showed: (a) lithium levels are often maintained at the lower end of the recommended therapeutic range, (b) patterns of lithium results and testing frequency were comparable across three UK sites with differing models of care and, (c) re-test intervals demonstrate a noticeable peak at the recommended 3-monthly, but not at 6-monthly intervals. Many tests were repeated outside expected frequencies, indicating the need for measures to minimise inappropriate testing.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Dec 22, 2020
Publication Date Jan 12, 2021
Publicly Available Date May 30, 2023
Journal BMC Psychiatry
Publisher Springer Verlag
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 21
Article Number 32
Keywords Bipolar disorder, Guidelines, Inappropriate test utilisation, Lithium, Monitoring, Serum lithium concentration, Testing frequency
Publisher URL


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