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Keywords:

  • dabigatran etexilate;
  • atrial fibrillation;
  • warfarin;
  • anticoagulation;
  • novel agents;
  • direct thrombin inhibitors;
  • drug safety

A number of novel anticoagulants are moving through various stages of drug development. Recently, the United States Food and Drug Administration approved the oral direct thrombin inhibitor dabigatran etexilate to reduce the risk of stroke and systemic embolism in patients with nonvalvular atrial fibrillation. Although dabigatran offers a number of advantages over existing oral and parenteral anticoagulants, challenges exist for clinicians who must ensure its safe and effective use. Limited data are available on dabigatran use in patients with renal dysfunction and in obese patients, or in combination with other drugs. Clinical experience is lacking in populations for whom anticoagulants are routinely used, such as patients with a previous stroke, acute coronary syndromes, or pregnancy-associated thrombosis, or those requiring ablation therapy. More important, clinicians will be faced with incorporating dabigatran into hospital guidelines for transitioning between oral and parenteral anticoagulants, measuring anticoagulant intensity, managing anticoagulant-related hemorrhage, ensuring safe use around neuraxial anesthesia, and implementing computer-based alert or warning systems. Since anticoagulants are ubiquitously used in the prevention or treatment of venous and arterial thrombosis, both clinicians and patients must be provided structured education on dabigatran's benefits and limitations. In this article, our goal was to provide practical advice to enhance clinician understanding of dabigatran, identify clinical and operational challenges to its use, and offer system improvements that can ensure safe and effective use of dabigatran.