Digoxin level determinations can be useful clinically in patients receiving digoxin therapy but are sometimes misused.
Explicit appropriateness criteria were adapted from previously published criteria and revised using local expert opinion. They were then used to evaluate the appropriateness of random samples of inpatient and outpatient serum digoxin levels. Overall agreement between reviewers regarding appropriateness was good (κ=0.65). Patients in the study included 162 inpatients in whom 224 digoxin levels were measured and 117 outpatients in whom 130 digoxin levels were measured during a 6-month period. The main outcome measure was the proportion of digoxin levels with an appropriate indication.
Among inpatient levels, only 16% (95% confidence intervals [CI], 11%-20%) were appropriate. Of the 189 digoxin levels considered inappropriate, only 26 (14%) had a result of 2.3 nmol/L or more (≥1.8 ng/mL). None of these levels resulted in an important change in therapy, and no patient had a toxic reaction to the therapy. Among inappropriate levels, daily routine monitoring accounted for 78%. Of the 130 outpatient levels, 52% (95% CI, 44%-61%) were appropriate. Of 62 inappropriate levels, only 4 (6%) had a result of 2.3 nmol/L or more (≥1.8 ng/mL). One result led to a change in therapy, but none of the patients were believed to experience a toxic reaction. Among the inappropriate levels, 87% of patients underwent early routine monitoring before a steady state was achieved.
A high proportion of digoxin levels were inappropriate, particularly among inpatients. In both groups, the primary reason tests were judged inappropriate was early routine monitoring. Few inappropriate tests resulted in important data. Interventions to improve the use of digoxin levels could potentially save substantial resources without missing important clinical results.