Tradition Versus Value: Is There Utility in Protocolized Postoperative Laboratory Testing after Elective Colorectal Surgery?

Nicholas P. McKenna, Elizabeth B. Habermann, Amy E. Glasgow, Robert R. Cima

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective:Determine if routine ordering of postoperative day 1 (POD 1) serum laboratory tests after elective colorectal surgery are clinically warranted and valuable given the associated costs of these lab tests.Summary of Background Data:Routine postoperative serum laboratory tests are a part of many colorectal surgery order sets. Whether these protocolized lab tests represent cost-effective care is unknown.Methods:Patients undergoing elective colorectal surgery between January 1, 2015 and December 31, 2017 at our institution were identified. The protocolized POD 1 lab tests obtained as part of the postoperative order set were reviewed to determine the rate of abnormal values and any intervention in response. Costs associated with protocolized laboratory testing were calculated using dollar amounts representing 2017 outpatient Medicare reimbursement.Results:A total of 2252 patients were identified with 8205 total lab test values. Of these, only 4% were abnormal (3% of hemoglobin values, 6% of creatinine values, 3% of potassium of values, and 3% of glucose values), and only 1% were actively intervened upon. The total aggregate cost of the protocolized POD 1 laboratory tests in these years was $64,000 based on Medicare outpatient reimbursement dollars.Conclusions:Routine POD 1 lab tests after elective colorectal surgery are rarely abnormal, and they even less frequently require active intervention beyond rechecking. This results in increased resource utilization and cost of care without appreciable impact on clinical care, and is not cost-effective. Protocolized POD 1 laboratory testing should be replaced with clinically-based criteria to trigger serum laboratory investigations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E548-E553
JournalAnnals of surgery
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021


  • enhanced recovery after surgery
  • postoperative
  • serum laboratories
  • value-added care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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