New research published in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy has revealed that blood thinners account for around 7 percent of medication errors in hospitalized patients.

Blood thinners reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke by preventing the development of blood clots in the arteries and veins.

There are two main types of blood thinners:

  • Anticoagulants - which work on chemical reactions in the body to prolong the time it takes for a blood clot to form.
  • Antiplatelet drugs - these prevent blood cells called platelets from grouping together which could cause a clot.
New guidelines regarding safe and effective use of anticoagulants have been developed by a panel of health care experts endorsed by the the Anticoagulation Forum - a group that focuses on improving anticoagulation care.

Standardized dosing protocols should be easily accessible via the hospital's electronic medical record.

In order to reduce the number of medication errors technology can be used, such as physician order entry, bar code scanning, programmable infusion pumps, and examining a patient's range of dosage.

Edith A Nutescu, PharmD FCCP, from the University of Illinois, explained that when technology based systems aren't available, having a pharmacist on patient rounds can reduce the number of errors by around 78 percent.

In addition, a team of healthcare professionals should provide care for each patient, and clinicians in quality and safety should be considered for the team, upon which a team leader is assigned to provide better communication regarding the anticoagulation management system to the other members.

An anticoagulation management system must have a reliable way of tracking patients receiving therapy as well being integrated with all patient-care resources in the health care system.

To ensure the proper management of all drug therapies, evidence-based standards of practice should be implemented. A periodical review of clinical standards should constantly be reviewed and updated to make sure that they are consistent with current evidence.

One of the most frequently cited causes of medication prescribing errors is " lack of knowledge of a patient's medication or condition".

It is imperative that the anticoagulation management system provides adequate staff training as well as ongoing educational development for all multidisciplinary personnel involved in the therapy.

Dr. Nutescu commented on the importance of patient education:

"Many patients have inadequate knowledge regarding their medication therapy. Improved outcomes have been reported when patients take responsibility for, understand, and adhere to an anticoagulation plan of care."

Patient education includes:
  • Face-to-face interaction
  • Group training sessions
  • Written and audiovisual materials
Nutescu added that inadequate care transitions are common among patients with chronic medical conditions, such as those on high-risk anticoagulation therapy. There should be procedures developed for patients' safe transition from inpatient to outpatient.

Three factors for effective care transitions are:
  • Education on blood thinning agents
  • Timely follow-up care
  • Communication between patient and health care provider
It is crucial that we improve patient safety as well as reducing costs, Nutescu said.

Written by Joseph Nordqvist