Medication shortages in US hospitals are ongoing, widespread, and frequently involve antineoplastic and supportive medications used in cancer care. The ways shortages are managed and the ways provider-patient communication takes place are heterogeneous, but the related preferences of oncology patients are undefined. This study sought to qualitatively evaluate patient preferences.
A cross-sectional, semi-structured interview study was conducted from January to June 2019. Participants were adult oncology inpatients who received primary cancer care at the University of Chicago, had undergone treatment within 2 years, and had 1 or more previous hospitalizations during that period. Participants (n = 54) were selected consecutively from alternating hematology and oncology services. The primary outcome was thematic saturation across the domains of awareness of medication shortages, principle preferences regarding decision makers, preferences regarding allocation of therapy drugs, and allocation-related communication.
Thematic saturation was reached after 39 participants completed the study procedures (mean age, 59.6 years [standard deviation, 14.5 years]; men made up 61.5% of the study population [mean age, 24 years]; response rate, 72.0%). In all, 18% of participants were aware of institutional medication shortages. Patients preferred having multiple decision makers for allocating medications in the event of a shortage. A majority of patients named oncologists (100%), ethicists (92%), non-oncology physicians (77%), and pharmacists (64%) as their preferred decision makers. Participants favored allocation of drugs based on their efficacy (normalized weighted average, 1.3), and they also favored prioritizing people who were already receiving treatment (1.8), younger patients (2.0), sicker patients (3.1), and those presenting first for treatment (5.3). Most participants preferred preferred disclosure of supportive care medication shortages (74%) and antineoplastic medication shortages (79%) for equivalent substitutions.
In a tertiary-care center with medication shortages, few oncologic inpatients were aware of shortages. Participants preferred having multiple decision makers involved in principle-driven allocation of scarce medications. Disclosure was preferred when their usual medications needed to be substituted with equivalent alternatives. These preliminary data suggest that preferences do not align with current management practices for medication shortages.

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