Medications are often just a part of aging. As we get older we are more likely to suffer from a whole host of medical issues. Unfortunately much of the testing that is done regarding these medications is done on health middle-aged or young people, rather than focusing on elderly people or people living in nursing homes. As a result, the use of these medications in nursing homes can sometimes have unexpected effects. Additionally, the unique needs of senior patients sometimes require that a very delicate balance be stricken with medication administration. When a nursing home is not up to this task, the results can be disasterous.
A Popular Blood Thinner is Causing Injuries and Deaths in Nursing Homes
The Washington Post reports that a popular blood thinner is causing injuries and even deaths in nursing homes. The brand name of the drug is called Coumadin, and its generic version is called warfarin. This drug is often used in patients who are at a high risk of stroke. There is a delicate balance in its administration. If a patient is not given enough of the drug he or she may develop deadly blood clots, but if he or she is given too much then he or she can bleed uncontrollably. Between 2011 and 2014 at least 165 residents of nursing homes wound up in the hospital or died as a result of an error administering this drug. Twenty of those reported incidents occurred in Illinois. Some studies indicate that there may be thousands of these incidents that go unreported. For example, a 2007 study in the American Journal of Medicine estimated that residents of nursing homes experienced 34,000 serious, life-threatening, or fatal events related to this drug each year.
Most Patients On Coumadin Need it
Despite these deadly errors, the fact remains that most patients who are on Coumadin need to use the drug. Since administering the drug cannot be avoided, nursing homes need to enact new protocols to ensure that the drug is properly administered. The government is taking some steps to address these issues. Last year the Department of Health and Human Services identified anticoagulants like Coumadin as a type of drug commonly involved in adverse events, and the agency called on other government agencies involved in health care to work on solutions.
Efforts are being made to train nursing home inspectors to do a better job of identifying problems with the administration of these drugs. These efforts alone will not be enough to solve the problem, however. There must be a real effort to foster coordination between doctors, nurses, pharmacists, laboratories, and nursing homes to make sure that patients are getting the individualized treatment that they need. The most common problem is that the patients are not receiving the drug as ordered by the physician. These communication breakdowns need to end. Technological advances in pharmacy and medical facility management may help this process, but it will also require a concentrated effort on the part of all of the players involved.
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