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Are medical supply shortages harming patients?


Ongoing medication, medical supply, and medical equipment shortages are plaguing doctors nationwide

Medical supply shortages are affecting patient care: ©xixixing - stock.adobe.com

Medical supply shortages are affecting patient care: ©xixixing - stock.adobe.com

A recent survey conducted by the independent, nonprofit patient safety organization ECRI, in collaboration with the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP), has illustrated the detrimental effects of ongoing national medication, medical supply, and medical equipment shortages on patient care. The survey, conducted in July 2023, revealed that the scarcity of essential medical resources is causing a direct and severe impact on the quality of health care, leading to unsafe practices and patient safety incidents that could have been avoided.

The survey encompassed nearly 200 respondents, including pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, procurement specialists, physicians, and nurses working in a variety of health care settings, including community, teaching, pediatric, and cancer care hospitals.

According to the survey, 60% of the respondents reported shortages of more than 20 drugs, single-use supplies, or other medical devices in the six months leading up to the survey. The shortage crisis has permeated multiple medical specialties, with 74% of respondents citing compromised care in surgery and anesthetics, 64% in emergency care, 52% in pain management, 45% in cardiology, 44% in hematology and oncology, 39% in infectious diseases, and 37% in obstetrics and gynecology.

Marcus Schabacker, MD, PhD, the president and CEO of ECRI, expressed his concerns about the findings. “While medication and supply shortages have been widely reported across health care, we now know with certainty that these shortages are causing preventable harm and have the potential to cause even more if they are not addressed soon,” he said in a statement. “There are strategies hospitals can use to reduce the impact of shortages, but they are a deviation from standard practice and resource-intensive—two characteristics that themselves can increase the likelihood of preventable harm.”

A significant number of respondents confirmed that shortages have had a detrimental effect on patient care, with half of them reporting delays in patient treatments and one-third stating they were unable to provide patients with the optimal drugs or treatments as recommended. Additionally, a quarter of the respondents were aware of at least one error related to drug, supply, or device shortages.

The survey provided specific examples of the adverse impact of these shortages on patients, including interruptions or delays in chemotherapy regimens, increased administration of opioid analgesia due to lidocaine shortages, dissemination of incorrect medication dosage instructions to patients, and even the postponement or cancellation of necessary surgeries.

Rita K. Jew, PharmD, MBA, the president of ISMP, voiced her concerns. “The extent to which medication, supply, and equipment shortages are negatively impacting patient care is inexcusable,” she said in a statement. “While pharmacies and hospitals can triage shortages short-term, we need long-term, nationally coordinated solutions to solve the persistent shortages we’ve witnessed repeatedly over the last several years.”

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