Blood thinners, also known as anticoagulants, are medications that prevent blood from clotting. Blood thinners are commonly prescribed by doctors to older patients who are at risk for blood clots, heart attacks or strokes.
According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), in the first quarter of 2015, 18% of patients in Pennsylvania nursing homes used warfarin, heparin, and other blood thinners. This is on the higher end compared to most states. Patients who are candidates for blood thinners include patients who have already had a heart attack or a stroke, or who have undergone angioplasty or coronary bypass surgery.
When blood thinning medication is not properly dispensed or monitored, instead of saving the life of the patient, it can actually cause the patient’s death. Sadly, the issue of improperly administered or monitored blood thinners has become a problem in nursing homes resulting in an alarming number of serious injuries and deaths.
Mistakes Administering Blood Thinners
There are a variety of ways that using or not using an anticoagulant can result in a deterioration of a medical condition or death:
- Interaction with Other Medications – Before a blood thinner is administered to a patient, it is important that the medical staff carefully review the other medications that the patient is taking, as well as the patient’s diet, as some blood thinners react poorly to certain medications and specific foods. For example, the effect of some blood thinners is multiplied when given to a patient who is also taking antibiotics.
- Failure to Prescribe – Blood thinner problems are not only caused when a blood thinner is improperly administered, but also when it is not prescribed at all. When an elderly patient suffers from a blood clot, he or she could experience irreparable damage if the medical staff fails to give him or her a blood thinner.
- Failure to Monitor – Once a patient is placed on a blood thinner regimen, it is important that the patient is monitored. For example, blood coagulation tests must be administered regularly in order to determine the consistency of blood. Proper monitoring will help determine if the blood thinner medication is working or if a dosage adjustment is needed.
Nursing Home Liability For Blood Thinner Errors
Typically, the nursing staff is responsible for dispensing medication to patients according to instructions left by the patient’s physician. If the nurse gives the patient the wrong dosage, the patient’s condition may not improve or the condition may worsen. When a nursing home patient is injured due to an error dispensing a blood thinner medication, the nursing home may be financially liable to the patient or the patient’s family.
Similarly, a nursing home would be liable if a patient is injured because nursing home staff failed to prescribe blood thinners or failed to properly monitor the patient who was receiving a blood thinner.
The issues with blood thinner administration in nursing homes have been permitted to continue virtually unchecked in part because oversight agencies do not provide meaningful penalties to nursing homes that make these errors. For example, when the CMS learns of a blood thinner mistake, it rarely goes as far as issuing a substantial fine or cutting off federal funding. More often the CMS simply requires the nursing home to agree to correct the problem to prevent the same error from reoccurring.
Help for You and Your Family
If you or a loved one was injured by nursing home staff due to mistakes in the administration of anticoagulants, you may be able to recover compensation through a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit. Donaghue & Labrum are experienced nursing home abuse attorneys serving Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. We will review your case, go over your legal options and work closely with you to pursue all appropriate civil remedies.