Reporting altered test results in hemolyzed samples: is the cure worse than the disease?
The management of laboratory data in unsuitable (hemolyzed) samples remains an almost unresolved dilemma. Whether or not laboratory test results obtained by measuring unsuitable specimens should be made available to the clinicians has been the matter of fierce debates over the past decades. Recently, an intriguing alternative to suppressing test results and recollecting the specimen has been put forward, entailing the definition and implementation of specific algorithms that would finally allow reporting a preanalytically altered laboratory value within a specific comment about its uncertainty of measurement. This approach carries some advantages, namely the timely communication of potentially life-threatening laboratory values, but also some drawbacks. These especially include the challenging definition of validated performance specifications for hemolyzed samples, the need to producing reliable data with the lowest possible uncertainty, the short turnaround time for repeating most laboratory tests, the risk that the comments may be overlooked in short-stay and frequently overcrowded units (e.g. the emergency department), as well as the many clinical advantages of a direct communication with the physician in charge of the patient. Despite the debate remains open, we continue supporting the suggestion that suppressing data in unsuitable (hemolyzed) samples and promptly notifying the clinicians about the need to recollect the samples remains the most (clinically and analytically) safe practice.