Drug shortage crisis highlights importance of teamwork

August 10, 2012

As the drug-shortage crisis continues, pharmacists look for ways to stem the tide. In health systems, the most powerful solution results from collaboration across departments.

Even with the severe recent shortages of certain chemotherapy and anesthesiology drugs, the medical center staff has always been able to obtain the needed medications for patients. "The slogan that drives our approach is 'Collaboration, communication, and coordination,'" Feemster told Drug Topics.

100 shortages

Drug shortages have nearly quadrupled over the past five years, and the medical center is currently "directly impacted" by 100 drug shortages, Feemster said. "The fact that we are unable to access critical drugs has the potential to impact patient care and patient safety," she said.

In addition, the shortages are having a tremendous financial impact on hospitals, because most hospitals have increased staff hours to identify and coordinate alternative drugs, and then communicate about the issues. "We estimate that we spend 60 to 80 hours a week managing drug shortages," Feemster said.

The varieties of medication in short supply may vary from week to week. According to Feemster, critical drugs that have been in short supply at the University of Maryland Medical Center in recent months have included calcium gluconate, sodium bicarbonate, etomidate, and the benzodiazepines. To date, the medical center has successfully handled the shortages. No critical patient has gone without his or her needed medication.