Preparing for Hospital and Health System Drug Shortages

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You’ve no doubt noticed drug shortages at your hospital or health system.


The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports, according to an April 2015 article in, that “active shortages” (new and ongoing from the previous year) have grown since 2007.


Another study reports that more than 80 percent of the drugs in short supply are generic medications and of those, 80 percent are injectables for treating cancer, cardiovascular disease, central nervous system conditions, infection, and pain.


McKesson believes drug shortages come in three categories: Problems with raw materials (2 percent), supply and demand trouble (17 percent) and problems in the manufacturing process (25 percent). They point out in the article that more than 50 percent of drugs experiencing a shortage due to the third category are made by just one or two companies.  This leaves little “cushion” when a problem develops during the manufacturing process.


While the FDA isn’t sitting idly by (it’s implemented initiatives such as the FDA Safety and Innovation Act and Strategic Plan for Preventing and Mitigating Drug Shortages, which it claims helped prevent 170 “new” shortages in 2013), the pharmaceutical industry has advice for hospitals and health systems to help them forecast and prevent drug shortages:


  • Little worthwhile gets done without a plan, so your facility’s director of pharmacy should develop one to manage any shortages. The ASHP recommends a three-phased plan: Assessment, preparation and contingency. Know who to contact at your distributors, how to get a message out about a shortage to your employees and how to make decisions during the shortage regarding drug usage and distribution.
  • Speaking of messaging: Know how your medication distributors tell you about any current or upcoming drug shortages. Do they send reports when you order, or during an all-bulletin email? Once you know how your distributors will tell you about a drug shortage, you then need to create a communications plan that will announce the shortfalls to your own employees so they can manage any risks to patients that could come up due to the shortage.
  • Never purchase from the so-called “gray market.” That is, don’t purchase from an unofficial channel. Doing so could mean your patients could receive product that has been improperly stored – and therefore compromised. Medications also could be contaminated.


Understanding that it’s not a question of if your hospital or health system will experience a drug shortage, but when can help you prepare and create plans for how to mitigate the impact these shortages could have on your patients.


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