Anticoagulants are frequently administered to prevent both arterial and venous clots. Arterial clots are the most common cause of heart attack and stroke. Venous clots, which typically arise in calves, may travel to the lungs to create a fatal condition called pulmonary embolism, which shuts off circulation to part of the lung, and may cause death. Anticoagulants are used to prevent these events. They are also commonly given to patients with atrial fibrillation (irregular heart beat), mechanical heart valves, and after hip surgery.
Anticoagulants do not have the capacity to break up existing clots. Their focus is on prevention. The most common anticoagulants used in Heparin. It has been found that sixty percent of life-threatening or lethal medication errors involve intravenous drugs such as Heparin.
Recently, The Joint Commission (formerly the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations or JCAHO), which accredits most hospitals and a vast variety of other healthcare organizations, has recommended an implementation process that addresses several key components of medical, pharmaceutical, and nursing practice related to administering anticoagulants. These include: the use of approved protocols for ordering and monitoring anticoagulants, notifying the dietary department of the fact the patient is on Coumadin (another type of anticoagulant); using programmable infusion pumps and premixed infusions of Heparin; monitoring bleeding time with INR (international normalized ratio) levels; and education of staff, patients and families.
When negligently administered, anticoagulants become frequent subjects in personal injury and medical malpractice claims. Just recently, for instance, the newborns of actor Dennis Quaid received 10,000 units of Heparin as opposed to 10 units at a California hospital. Some claims involve administration of anticoagulants in the face of an intracranial hemorrhage after a person falls and hits his or her head. The anticoagulants, in this setting, exacerbate the intracranial hemorrhage and cause significant brain injury. There are also cases when the hospital staff fails to monitor a patient’s coagulation factors while administering heparin, which can then result in severe bleeding and death. Other claims can also include the hospital staff’s failure to consider other medications that affect a patient’s coagulation, which could potentiate the blood thinning effects of anticoagulants and cause severe bleeding.
If you believe that you or your loved one suffered injuries from improper administration of anticoagulants, it is important to contact an attorney who will carefully review your case with a medical expert to review the pertinent medical records and determine if you have a medical malpractice claim.