How Providence is responding to medication shortages and tips to manage drug supply

COVID-19 is causing critical drug shortages in the U.S. Thousands of hospitals are competing for similar types of medications in a very tight supply market. As we experience serious pharmaceutical ingredient supply interruptions, these drug shortages can lead to deadly complications when patients are unable to receive their life-saving medications.

We've come to realize just how dependent we are on China and India for pharmaceuticals. China and India are the first link in the vital supply chain of the world's medications supply. Together, these two nations are the largest producers and exporters of active pharmaceutical ingredients. At best, these medications are ineffectively regulated. At worst, they can cause unreasonable risk of exposure to unsafe medicines.

Providence's response to medication shortages

At Providence, based in Renton, Wash., we created our own incident command structure to anticipate emergent shortages of medications, supplies, services and operational challenges. We continue to partner closely with our government affairs leaders to advocate for supply chain transparency. 

We've also focused our efforts on building a stable medication supply chain. We've put together a list of 150 essential medications that includes antibiotics, opiates, and neuromuscular blocking agents to facilitate mechanical ventilation for COVID-19 patients. 

Pharmacy leaders from each of Providence's regions and drug manufacturers have banded together to ensure availability of these medications and monitor the list daily.

We've asked pharmacies to use up their allocations so we can more easily transfer medications from hospital to hospital. We’ve developed clinical algorithms for neuromuscular blocking agents and analgesia to establish alternative options for patients. 

If ever there was a time for selfless, tireless teamwork, that time is now. Less impacted hospitals have shared scarce supplies with larger hospitals in the direct path of the pandemic. 

Additionally, having a close relationship with Cardinal Health enables us to anticipate and address the medication needs caused by COVID-19. Through daily meetings, we are informed of possible drug shortages so we can quickly devise contingency plans to address these shortages before they happen.

5 things healthcare systems can do to manage their medication supply

Based on our learnings at Providence, we recommend that you take the following steps to manage your medication supply.

1. Continuously seek information regarding medication supply chain market news and follow reporting sites such as the FDA and American Society of Health System Pharmacists to get the latest information on drug shortages. 

2.  Develop a medication supply strategy, which includes a pharmacy-centric medication shortage management team and associated framework and workflows tasked with system-wide medication supply management oversight.

3. Build and manage a watchlist of medications that are critical and in high demand.

4. Communicate about everything and remember to include your providers.

5. Know your inventory and update it as often as you can so you can identify and act on any potential medication supply issues.

We must champion disclosures of where pharmaceutical ingredients are manufactured and the conditions in which they are manufactured to further stabilize our medication supply chain. This will allow us to better predict how we may be impacted by an unexpected event like COVID-19. Moreover, it will help us decide on how to better diversify our pharmaceutical supply chain, reducing dependence on foreign ingredients.

Because of COVID-19, we've realized the need to address risks to our medication ingredient supply chain and to focus our efforts on developing new resources domestically. We know that a more stable medication supply chain is indeed a critical step forward to achieving health for a better world.  


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