Drugmakers, FDA need a SWAT team approach on shortages, group says

Michael J. Alkire, COO of Premier--Courtesy of Premier

The FDA pointed out recently that it has reduced the number of new drug shortages considerably. Hospitals have gotten much better at responding when they occur. But that doesn't change the fact that the total number of drug shortages continues to grow and patients continue to suffer as a result. A new study suggests that drugmakers and healthcare providers may need to scramble together a solution when a shortage arises.

Michael J. Alkire, chief operating officer of supply chain and healthcare consulting group Premier, said the supply chain has become vulnerable to "shortage spikes." He pointed to the current interruption of supplies of intravenous solutions like saline as a prime example. "We need a 'SWAT team' mentality by all, including the FDA, the manufacturers, the distribution channel, the GPOs and the hospitals," he said in a statement as the company released a new survey on shortages.

In addition to intravenous solutions, hospitals report they are most affected by shortages of cardiovascular drugs like nitroglycerin solution, and anesthesia and sedation products like propofol used in surgeries. That means procedures often have to wait, adding risk to Americans. The shortages also add dollars to the nation's healthcare bills. In 2011, 2012 and 2013, drug shortages at hospitals added, on average, $230 million to total hospital costs--and that doesn't even factor in things like labor costs required to track down alternatives.

The FDA has tackled drug shortages with a special urgency in recent years, and the efforts have been paying off. A recent report on shortages from the FDA said it was able to ward off 140 potential drug shortages during the first 9 months of last year. The agency said only 38 new shortages were reported in that period, which is a huge decline from 2012 when there were 117 new shortages during the full year. On average, the 38 tallies up to less than half the number reported in 9 months of 2012.

Premier reports that the improvements have been noted on hospital floors. It said the number of patients facing a cancelled or delayed medical procedure because of a drug shortage in the past 6 months is half what it was in 2010. Still, as a recent Government Accountability Office report shows, while the growth in drug shortages has slowed, the total number of ongoing drug shortages has gotten larger every year since 2007. It reached 288 through June of last year.

- here's the Premier release
- and the survey