5 tips for health systems facing drug shortages

Handling drug shortages is getting more difficult as hospital and health system pharmacy leaders cope with shortfalls that last longer and leave them with fewer alternative treatment options. 

But equipped with the right strategies and personnel, healthcare leaders can lessen the disruption of these shortages on their organizations, wrote Michael Gaunt, PharmD, a medication safety analyst, in an Aug. 25 article in Pharmacy Times. 

Below are five recommendations from Dr. Gaunt:

1. Communicate with patients about shortages. If patients are affected by a drug shortage, talk to them about the causes of the shortage, the expected duration and any differences that they may experience from a prescribed alternative product, Dr. Gaunt said. 

2. Establish a drug shortage network with nearby facilities. Build a local medical network to protect against drug shortage risks, Dr. Gaunt suggests. With a strong collaboration between networks, the facilities can share information about upcoming shortages and alternative products that have worked well. In addition, when an alternative drug isn't suitable, a strong collaboration between facilities can ensure a patient can be transferred to a facility that has the drug on hand. 

3. Create a standard process to identify potential alternative therapies early. A standardized process for identifying alternative therapies can help reduce prescribing errors that may emerge from a last-minute decision to switch to an alternative product, Dr. Gaunt said.

"Obtain suggestions from listservs, the literature, local pharmacies, prescribers, professional websites, and even local or regional hospitals," Dr. Gaunt wrote. 

4. Avoid hoarding drugs. Stockpiling medications may lead to artificial shortages, Dr. Gaunt said. 

5. Conduct a failure mode and effects analysis and make procedural changes. Completing a failure mode and effects analysis may help to identify potential safety concerns with the use of alternative products. It will help the organization get ahead of any potential hazard posed to patients and the health system. Once the analysis is completed, "make any necessary procedural and technological changes to support the safe use of the alternative medications," he said. 

Read more recommendations here.

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