Drug Shortages Harming Patients, Increasing Costs to Hospitals

Increasing drug shortages are impacting patient care and increasing costs to the nation’s health system, according to a new study released today by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP). The study, Impact of Drug Shortages on U.S. Health Systems, was conducted in partnership with the University of Michigan Health System, and published online by the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, ahead of the October 1 print date.

The authors, led by Burgunda V. Sweet, Pharm.D., FASHP, director of drug information and medication use policy at the University of Michigan Health System, surveyed 353 directors of pharmacy in hospitals across the country of varying sizes, to quantify the personnel resources required to manage the drug shortages, define the extent to which recent drug shortages impacted health systems nationwide, and to assess the adequacy of information resources available to manage shortages.

“The number of drugs experiencing shortages has increased considerably in the past few years with 211 new drug shortages reported in 2010,” Sweet says. “Of even greater concern is that many of these drugs are critical care medications used in acute, life threatening situations. The national cost of healthcare personnel resources needed to manage these shortages amounted to over $200 million. These labor needs required to manage drug shortages were commonly met by reallocating existing staff, thereby pulling pharmacists away from other patient-care duties.”

The research found:

  • The labor costs associated with managing shortages translates to an estimated annual impact of $216 million nationally.
  • Reallocation of existing staff, including from patient care duties, to allow time for individuals to focus on managing shortages was commonly reported (32 percent),
  • More than 90% of respondents agreed that drug shortages were associated with an increased burden and increased costs today compared to two years ago.
  • Three specific drug shortages affected over 80 percent of health systems (dextrose syringes, epinephrine injection and succinylcholine injection).
  • Seventy percent of respondents felt the information resources available to manage drug shortages are less than good.

“Drug shortages are a national health crisis,” said ASHP executive vice president and CEO, Henri R. Manasse, Jr., Ph.D., Sc.D. “Particularly troubling are reports that pharmacists are being pulled away from clinical duties to manage shortages. This means that patients don’t have access to the medication expertise that pharmacists provide making patients even more vulnerable to harm. The impact on our health care system is enormous. It’s urgent that stakeholders work together to find solutions to this serious public health threat.”

ASHP is releasing its study in joint announcement with the American Hospital Association (AHA), which is also releasing survey data that complements ASHP’s findings. AHA’s survey of 820 hospitals revealed that nearly 100 percent of hospitals reported having experienced at least one drug shortage in the last six months and nearly half reported experiencing 21 or more shortages in the last six months. The ASHP survey reported similar findings and noted that 47 percent of large hospitals experienced 30 or more shortages.

ASHP helped form a coalition of health care groups who are working to find a way to resolve the ongoing crisis and co-convened a Drug Shortages Summit in November 2010. Together with its partners, the American Hospital Association, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, the American Society of Clinical Oncology, and the American Society of Anesthesiologists, ASHP is advocating for a number of legislative and regulatory actions to help address the crisis, including:

  • Establish an “early warning system” to help avert or mitigate drugs shortages.
  • Remove obstacles so that the Food and Drug Administration is able to streamline approval of drugs in shortage.
  • Improve communication among stakeholders, including extent and timeliness of information.
  • Explore incentives to encourage drug manufacturers to stay in, re-enter or initially enter the market.

The study can be found online at www.ajhp.org/site/DrugShortages.pdf?fm_preview=1.

About ASHP
For more than 60 years, ASHP has helped pharmacists who practice in hospitals and health systems improve medication use and enhance patient safety. The Society’s 35,000 members include pharmacists and pharmacy technicians who practice in inpatient, outpatient, home-care, and long-term-care settings, as well as pharmacy students. For more information about the wide array of ASHP activities and the many ways in which pharmacists help people make the best use of medicines, visit ASHP’s Web site, www.ashp.org, or its consumer Web site, www.SafeMedication.com.

(Release adapted from ASHP.)

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