Patients' and clinicians' perceptions of oral anticoagulants in atrial fibrillation: a systematic narrative review and meta-analysis

BMC Fam Pract. 2021 Dec 22;22(1):254. doi: 10.1186/s12875-021-01590-x.


Background: Atrial fibrillation (AF) increases the risk of developing a stroke by 20%. AF related strokes are associated with greater morbidity. Historically, warfarin was the anticoagulant of choice for stroke prevention in patients with AF but lately patients are being switched or started on direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs). DOACs are promoted as safer alternatives to warfarin and it is expected that they will be associated with fewer challenges both for patients and healthcare professionals. This systematic narrative review aimed to explore perspectives of patients and professionals on medicines optimisation of oral anticoagulation with vitamin K antagonists and DOACs in atrial fibrillation.

Methods: Prospero registration CRD42018091591. Systematic searches undertaken of research studies (qualitative and quantitative), published February 2018 to November 2020 from several databases (Web of Science, Scopus, Medline Via Ovid, CINHAL via Ebsco, and PubMED via NCBI) following PRISMA methodology. Data were organised using Covidence software. Two reviewers independently assessed the quality of the included studies and synthesized the findings (thematic analysis approach).

Results: Thirty-four studies were included. Studies were critically appraised using established critical appraisal tools (Qualsyst) and a risk of bias was assigned. Clinicians considered old age and the associated complexities such as co-morbidities and the increased potential for bleeding as potential barriers to optimising anticoagulation. Whereas patients' health and medication beliefs influenced adherence. Notably, structured patient support was important in enhancing safety and effective anticoagulation. For both patients and clinicians, confidence and experience of safe anticoagulation was influenced by the presence of co-morbidities, poor knowledge and understanding of AF and the purpose of anticoagulation.

Conclusion: Age, complex multimorbidity and polypharmacy influence prescribing, with DOACs being perceived to be safer than warfarin. This systematic narrative review suggests that interventions are needed to support patient self-management. There are residual anxieties associated with long term anticoagulation in the context of complexities.

Trial registration: Not applicable.

Keywords: Atrial fibrillation; Clinicians; DOACs; Elderly; Healthcare professionals; Oral anticoagulants; Patients; Perceptions; Systematic narrative review; Warfarin.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Anticoagulants / therapeutic use
  • Atrial Fibrillation* / complications
  • Atrial Fibrillation* / drug therapy
  • Hemorrhage / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Stroke* / prevention & control
  • Warfarin / therapeutic use


  • Anticoagulants
  • Warfarin