This Common Health Condition is a Major Cause of Preventable Hospital Deaths

Can hospitals prevent pulmonary embolisms?Health complications caused by blood clots are a leading cause of preventable hospital deaths. One such complication is a pulmonary embolism, which occurs when blood clots travel to and block arteries in the lungs. Deaths caused by pulmonary embolisms in hospitals are surprisingly common.

Many factors can increase the risk of a pulmonary embolism. Patients with preexisting conditions like arthritis, high blood pressure, obesity or alcoholism have an increased risk. Certain medications, like birth control, also raise to risk. However, blood clots can happen to anyone after a prolonged period of bedrest.

Some deaths caused by pulmonary embolisms are preventable. Hospitals have an obligation to patients and their families to help prevent these deaths. The following policies may help:

  • Hospitals can use electronic health records to identify patients who have the highest risk of developing blood clots.
  • Patients can receive compression stockings that squeeze the legs and feet. They may also receive blood-thinning medications and other compression devices.
  • Staff can undergo training that helps them understand the risks of blood clots. Hospitals can hand out educational materials, or conduct classes explaining these dangers.
  • Hospitals can make sure patients understand the dangers posed by blood clots. Patients can report common symptoms of a pulmonary embolism, such as pain or discomfort in the chest or shortness of breath. If they are able, patients can also get up and walk around to keep the blood from clotting.

Why are Pulmonary Embolisms a Cause of Preventable Hospital Deaths?

A study conducted by Johns Hopkins Hospital discovered many patients who die from complications caused by blood clots receive substandard care. According to the study, 27 percent were not prescribed drugs for preventing blood clots. Another 73 percent missed a dosage of these medications, most often due to nursing errors.

Family members of patients who died from pulmonary embolisms may have legal options to hold hospitals accountable. Some of these deaths only happen when patients do not receive adequate care. Depending on the circumstances, this may constitute medical malpractice.


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