Drug shortages have "far-ranging effects" on patient care,

Patient Safety Monitor Insider

September 29, 2004

Drug shortages are having far-ranging, negative effects on patient care and hospital costs, according to a study to be published October 1 in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy.

Researchers polled nearly 1,500 pharmacy directors in U.S. health systems. About 95% of respondents believe shortages have created roadblocks and hurdles for treating patients with the best medication, while 61% believe the scarcity of certain drugs has compromised patient care.

The survey represents the first formal research to gauge the effect of drug shortages on patient care. It was conducted in March 2003 by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) and pharmacy residents at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore.

Pharmacy directors reported that drug shortages have affected patients in a number of ways, including contributing to the delay or cancellation of certain medical procedures, prolonged patient stays in hospitals, and serious medication errors.

Shortages have also affected drug prices as pharmacists are forced to buy the same product at higher than contracted prices or more expensive alternative products in the same therapeutic class. Survey respondents reported that shortages force their hospitals to spend an annual average of $20,000 more in incremental drug purchasing costs. On a national level, this extrapolates to $99,260,000 in additional costs to the U.S. healthcare system each year. These figures do not take into account the significant personnel time required to manage shortages.

Pharmacists are spending more time managing shortages, including: tracking product availability; identifying therapeutic alternatives; contracting with vendors, manufacturers, and group purchasing organizations to buy therapeutic alternatives; preparing written communications, and training other healthcare providers on using other medications, according to the survey.

ASHP has worked for years to help health-system pharmacists deal with the problem of drug shortages, including launching a Drug Shortages Resource Center that provides timely reports on medications in short supply as well as their therapeutic alternatives.

-- Wendy Johnson