Planning, Communication Key in Coping with Shortages

August 1, 2011 | Health System Risk Management


“Hospital Pharmacists Scrambling amid Vast Drug Shortages,” warns a headline in the February 2011 Annals of Emergency Medicine. Medication shortages are a growing concern, and much attention is being given to this issue in the media—even in the consumer media, where articles such as “Drug Shortages Distress Hospitals” in the February 1, 2011, Wall Street Journal call attention to the fact that many of the drugs in short supply have no adequate alternative options. USA Today echoes this worry in a February 2011 online article titled “Drug Shortages Forcing Some Risky Alternatives.”

By May 2011, the issue had grown significant enough that U.S. senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office to investigate the issue, citing the direct threat to public health that such shortages can cause. (AHA)

But what’s really causing medication shortages? And what can your facility do to continue to provide high-quality care for patients while dealing with the various shortages? These issues are not only for the pharmacy and therapeutics committees to deal with. Lack of access to a drug can delay both necessary and elective procedures, can affect a patient’s course of treatment, and can put patients at increased risk of medication error. The entire hospital leadership must come together and develop a plan of action for successfully coping with medication shortages.

As a result of a 2010 survey, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) reports that “the conditions associated with drug shortages during the past year have been the worst ever” (ISMP “Weathering”). ISMP found that care providers are most concerned about the unavailability of a large number of critical drugs, the necessity of using less reliable or less familiar drugs, the dearth of warnings about possible shortages, the increased risk of error or poor patient outcome resulting from delayed treatment, and the time and effort required to manage drug shortages. (ISMP...

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