In the world of medicine, blood clots during hospitalization have become synonymous with imperfect care. As many as 600,000 patients per year experience a blood clot, and more than 100,000 die as a result, accounting for between 5 and 10 percent of hospital deaths. Regulatory agencies have taken clots as signals that safety and quality have been compromised, and have instituted significant financial penalties on physicians and hospitals for these “preventable events.”
In reality, clots aren’t always as preventable in real-world practice as they are in theory. Blood clots happen even under conditions of perfect, best-practice patient care, which should be seen as testimony to the limits of penalty schemes aiming to improve the quality of care. These penalties should be re-examined.
In a study recently published in JAMA Surgery of 128 blood clot or venous thromboembolism (VTE) cases, my team found that nearly 50 percent of the cases reviewed at The Johns Hopkins Hospital were not actually preventable. In fact, these patients received perfect care by all objective measures — all appropriate preventive measures were taken, including the prescription of the ideal medication and assuring that every dose of medicine was administered. Yet the blood clots still occurred, and the hospital was still financially penalized.