How to protect patient safety when facing drug shortages

Clinical leaders know drug shortages are nothing new, but the current situation is incredibly challenging. Ongoing and active shortages are the highest since 2014, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP).1

Despite universal concern about drug shortages across the industry and from regulating institutions, progress has been slow in shoring up the drug supply chain to be more resilient. Shortages resulting from problems with sourcing raw materials, manufacturing and quality control issues persist.

In lieu of systemic industry improvements to prevent drug shortages, healthcare systems must take proactive measures to mitigate the effects of drug shortages on their ability to provide the most appropriate, evidence-based care for their patients.

Be prepared for shortages with these three strategies

Managing drug shortages to account for patient safety starts with preparation. “Strategic planning is required for managing drug product shortages, just as it is for disasters such as major weather events or mass casualty incidents,” according to the ASHP Guidelines on Managing Drug Product Shortages.2

These strategies can help pharmacies be more prepared for drug shortages:

  • Build a strong network
    In addition to following drug shortage alerts from the FDA and ASHP, connecting with industry peers through social media, professional organizations, wholesalers, and purchasing groups is helpful. Make sure you understand how your distributor communicates drug shortages. Not only can a strong network help provide early warning for an anticipated shortage, but it can also make it easier to find alternative sources for the affected drug or substitutes when a shortage hits. 

  • Have a plan
    Before a shortage occurs, have leadership and protocols in place for how to allocate resources, when and how to involve clinical experts, how to approve alternative therapies, and how to address ethical considerations that may arise. And importantly, make sure you have a plan for communicating necessary updates and protocols to sites and clinicians. 

  • Know your current circumstances
    Knowing your organization’s current status is vital when preparing for a potential shortage. It’s crucial to have good visibility into your inventory, usage history, and procurement options — preferably in a centralized and automated format. Having fast and easy access to this information can help you act quickly and guide informed purchasing decisions when a shortage occurs.

Stay informed on alternative drug options to protect patient safety

Fortunately, alternative drugs can often serve as the best option for uninterrupted patient care in the face of a shortage. However, drug substitutions are not without hazards. 

The alternative drug may come in different preparations or formulations, requiring clinicians to recalculate dosages for their patients and raising risk for medication errors. New drug interactions may be a factor. Or the alternative drug may be less effective or cause more adverse effects than the original, requiring potential reassessment of the overall treatment plan.

To act quickly and safely in finding alternative medications for patients, it’s crucial that pharmacies and clinicians have access to current, reliable drug alternative information. Ideally, this should include guidance for off-labeled use and tools such as drug interaction checkers or dosage calculators. “Combining a targeted shortage management solution with a strong source of clinical information, guided by in-house expertise from cross-functional clinical teams, is the best way to be ready to pivot quickly and safely to alternative drug options,” said Bryan Bohanan, Micromedex Strategy and Partnership Leader.

There are no quick fixes for the problem of drug shortages. But with a well-structured plan, good visibility into inventories, and a reliable source for clinical information, healthcare organizations can be as prepared as possible to minimize shortage impacts on their ability to provide the best patient care.

Get ahead of shortages with OrbitalRX with Micromedex, a pharmacy management solution to automate and unify your data with timely inventory insights and usage rates, in-workflow access to evidence-based drug information for therapeutic alternatives, and configurable options to help you communicate shortage tracking and management plans across the enterprise.

Learn more here.  


  1. Drug Shortages Statistics. ASHP.

  2. ASHP Guidelines on Managing Drug Product Shortages.

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