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Drug Shortages Will Affect Patient Care

Update Date: Jan 09, 2014 12:00 PM EST

In a new survey that interviewed pharmacy directors, the responses revealed that drug shortages could potentially be a huge problem for patients. According to the directors, when drug shortages occurred at their respective facilities, patient safety and care were negatively affected. Based on the findings, the researchers believe that more might need to be done to prevent drug shortages.

"This survey is the first that we are aware of to describe the effects that drug shortages have on patient complaints," said Despina Kotis, PharmD, director of pharmacy at Northwestern Memorial HealthCare and co-author of the article. "It clearly shows that patients are aware these shortages are happening and they are upset that their care is being adversely affected by them."

For this research article, the team from Northwestern Medicine and MedAssets set out to examine the relationship between drug shortages and patient outcomes. The team distributed the survey to pharmacy directors that worked at many different health care settings. The survey collected data on patient complaints related to drug shortages, any adverse outcomes, medication errors, patient outcomes, demographics and institutional costs.

The team found that nearly half of the responses they received revealed that adverse events occurred when there were drug shortages. In some of the situations, patients ended up dying due to the lack of medications. The researchers were able to tie medication errors, increased institutional costs, cancelled care and delayed treatment to poor patient outcomes.

The researchers also calculated that almost 10 percent of the adverse events was related to patients who needed to be readmitted due to drug shortages. 38 percent of the responses revealed that they received at least one complaint about drug shortages at their facilities and roughly 20 percent of that rate had received more than 10 complaints.

"Drug shortages are the first thing I think about when I get up in the morning and it is the last thing on my mind when I go to bed at night," said Gary Fennessy, MBA, vice president of Operations for Northwestern Memorial HealthCare and co-author of the article. "This is not a problem that is going to go away on its own. Healthcare leaders must not lose sight of it as a major contributor to patient harm or consider its adverse effects inevitable."

The article, "Effects on Patient Care Caused by Drug Shortages: A Survey," was published in the Journal of Managed Care Pharmacy (JMCP).

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