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VTE Prophylaxis Overused in Low-Risk Hospitalized Patients

A majority of hospitalized patients at low risk for venous thromboembolism were unnecessarily treated with medication, based on data from more than 400 individuals.

Prevention of venous thromboembolism (VTE) is important, and current guidelines from the American College of Chest Physicians suggest that patients with high or moderate risk for VTE be treated with mechanical prophylaxis, and that pharmacological prophylaxis is not recommended for patients at high risk for bleeding, said Hui Chong Lau, MD, in a presentation at the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians (CHEST).

However, the nature of VTE prophylaxis using a risk assessment score has not been explored, said Lau, a third-year resident in internal medicine at Crozer-Chester Medical Center, Upland, Pennsylvania.

Low-molecular-weight heparin (LWMH) and intermittent pneumatic compression are often used to reduce VTE risk during hospitalization, but for patients with low VTE risk, prophylaxis is not necessarily recommended, he said. In fact, overuse of chemical prophylaxis in low-risk patients can increase bleeding risk and contribute to patient discomfort in the form of additional needle sticks while hospitalized, Lau said in the presentation.

“We wanted to see how well physicians in the hospital used a risk assessment model to stratify patients,” and how well the patients were assigned to the correct prophylaxis, he explained.

Lau and colleagues reviewed data from 469 adult patients hospitalized at a single medical center who were hospitalized between January 2021 and June 2021. The researchers retrospectively performed risk assessment using the Padua prediction score. A score of less than 4 was considered low risk for VTE, and a score of 4 or higher was considered high risk.

In the study population, 180 patients were identified as low risk and 289 were considered high risk.

Based on the Padua score, 95% of the patients at high risk were on the correct prophylaxis, Lau said.

A total of 193 high-risk patients were on heparin. However, many of these patients had good kidney function, and could have been treated with enoxaparin instead; “this would have spared them two needle sticks per day,” Lau noted.

Of the 180 low-risk patients, 168 (93.3%) were on chemical prophylaxis, and should have been on mechanical prophylaxis, he said. Only 10 patients (5%) who were considered low risk were placed on mechanical prophylaxis.

Overall, 3.6% of all patients who received chemical VTE prophylaxis developed bleeding.

The results were limited by the retrospective design and use of data from a single center. However, the findings emphasize the need for better attention to VTE risk when considering prophylaxis, said Lau. “We have to have risk assessment every day,” during a hospital stay, and adjust treatment accordingly, he said.

“We are likely overusing chemical VTE prophylaxis in low-risk patients,” he concluded.

Additional research is needed to better understand the potential consequences of overusing chemical VTE, including not only bleeding risk, but also financial costs and patient discomfort, he said.

The study received no outside funding. The researchers had no financial conflicts to disclose.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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