Jason Stein, MD, knows he could walk into almost any nursing unit in any hospital in the country, ask a simple question, and get blank stares in return.
“I would ask, ‘Which patients here in the nursing unit don’t have an order for VTE prophylaxis?’ ” says Dr. Stein, associate director for quality improvement and assistant professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. “And they would tell me, ‘What kind of place do you think this is? How can we possibly know that?’ ”
It’s not idle chat. Venous thromboembolism (VTE) is a condition known throughout HM for three things: It runs rampant in hospitals; it can be deadly; and it’s easily preventable.
This month, SHM—along with dozens of other healthcare organizations, including the Agency for Healthcare Research Quality (AHRQ)—is highlighting the dangers of VTE and deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and promoting best practices to prevent them.
“SHM’s leadership of awareness efforts and championing VTE [prevention] has played an important role in keeping this on everybody’s mind,” Dr. Stein says.
VTE: A Hospital-Based Epidemic
Although it is easy to target at-risk populations and prevent it, VTE is widespread and dangerous.
“By published estimates, each year VTE kills more people than HIV, car accidents, and breast cancer combined,” says Gregory A. Maynard, MD, Ms, chief of the division of hospital medicine and clinical professor of medicine at the University of California at San Diego.
The risk of VTE in hospital patients should give hospitalists and their colleagues pause. Here’s why:
- According to the American Heart Association, more than 200,000 cases of VTE are reported each year, and VTE occurs for the first time in approximately 100 out of every 100,000 persons each year;
- Research published last year in The Lancet estimates 52% of hospitalized patients are at risk for VTE;
- 1 in 3 VTE patients experiences a pulmonary embolism;
- 30% of new VTE patients die within three days;
- 20% of new VTE patients die suddenly from pulmonary embolus; and
- DVT is responsible for approximately 8,000 hospital discharges every year. Pulmonary embolism accounts for nearly 100,000.
Risk Factors and Prevention
In a hospital setting, VTE risk factors are especially straightforward to monitor and prevent, but Dr. Maynard sees room for improvement.
“We don’t need to do better things; we need to do things better,” he told colleagues at a recent grand rounds. “Pharmacologic prophylaxis is the preferred way to prevent VTE in the hospital, which can reduce DVT and pulmonary embolism by 50% to 65%.”