More than 99% of hospitals polled in June 2011 by the American Hospital Association (AHA) reported that they had experienced a drug shortage within the previous 6 months, and nearly 45% indicated they had experienced at least 21 shortages during that time.

In the survey of 820 respondents, 80% said they had experienced shortages in surgery/anesthesia, emergency care, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal/nutrition, pain, or infectious disease medications. More than 66% of hospitals reported cancer drug shortages. What’s more, almost 50% reported a shortage of at least one agent daily.

Because of these shortages, 80% of hospitals reported delaying patient treatment, and 70% reported treating patients with inferior drugs, although such instances occurred “rarely,” according to the respondents. “The number of drugs in short supply is increasing at an alarming rate, and hospitals are working diligently to reduce the impact to the patients they care for,” said AHA President and CEO Rich Umbdenstock. “Clinicians need more notice about drug shortages so they have time to act to ensure that patient care is not disrupted.”

A lack of advance notice about drug shortages may explain why 85% of respondents reported having purchased excess inventory of some drugs. Rationing or restrictions on certain drugs are other ways hospitals try cope with shortages, with most respondents reporting that they have taken those measures — causing drug costs to rise.

According to a separate survey released by the American Society of Health System Pharmacists, managing these shortages results in estimated U.S. labor costs of $216 million. More than 90% of directors of pharmacy who responded to the survey said drug shortages were associated with increased burden and costs compared with 2 years ago. Seven in 10 stated that available information on drug shortage management was lacking.

Both the AHA and the American Society of Health System Pharmacists are joined by others calling for an early warning system for potential drug shortage. These organizations also favor allowing the FDA to streamline the approval of agents in short supply, and that production incentives for the most needed drugs should be explored.

Download AHA survey

Download Pharmacists survey

Physician’s Weekly
wants to know…

• Has your hospital experienced drug shortages within the past 6 months? How were they handled?

• Does your hospital have a system in place to monitor or watch for potential drug shortages? If so, has it been successful?

• Do you feel patient care has been affected by drug shortages in your hospital?