Moving Away From the WhiteBoard: When Drugs Are in Short Supply

Drug shortages are happening at an alarming rate.   According to a 2013 study by the Abramson Cancer Center and the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, 83 percent of cancer doctors reported that they have faced shortages in important oncology drugs. These physicians say that the shortages have left them without the ability to prescribe standard chemotherapies for a range of cancers.

Healthcare Providers Struggle to Manage Shortages

While manufacturers work to understand and resolve drug supply issues, and the government puts regulations in place to increase security and visibility in the medication supply chain, healthcare providers should be prepared for continual drug shortages and put processes in place to effectively manage them.

Most hospitals have developed an internal method to minimize impact to patients during a drug shortage. However, in terms of workflow, cost, and efficiency, it is largely manual.

  • You realize there’s a shortage of a particular drug via a posting on the American Society for Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) website, newsfeed to your email, or vendor notification. Or, in most cases, you just stop seeing it as available to order from the wholesaler.
  • Once a shortage is realized, the specific drug and the impact to patients are physically written on a white board and posted inside the pharmacy work area.
  • The shortages are typically ranked: low impact, moderate impact, and high impact.
  • After a few days of the shortage, the hospital’s clinical staff develops an alternate treatment approach or pharmacological solution for the patients affected.

Automating Drug Shortage Management

In an era of on-demand information and electronic communications, the challenges of any manual drug shortage management process are obvious.

Automating the process would improve visibility to available inventory of that shortage item in the various computer systems within the medication distribution process. It would enable many benefits, and is in line with hospitals’ other information technology and patient safety initiatives.

Increasing Visibility and Saving Time

Hospitals that use integrated medication automation solutions are in the best position to most effectively manage through a drug shortage.

For example, pharmacists can know immediately if they have a recalled or short-supply item, and can instantly see where the inventory is located in both the central pharmacy and automated dispensing cabinets (ADCs) on the nursing units. Having this information right away enables the pharmacy staff to make decisions about how to handle the available inventory, including whether to pull all the impacted medicines from the ADC and place them into central pharmacy to manage under a more strategic approach.

Some pharmacies use automated systems, such as Omnicell’s Pandora Analytics, that integrate a feed to the ASHP drug shortages database which provides real-time information as shortages are posted by the manufacturer. Pandora also includes a function that enables pharmacy to see where inventory of the shortage item is located across the facility.

Moving Away From the Whiteboard

So move away from the white board and manual communication methods when it comes to managing drug shortages. Automated systems and updated technologies will enable you to more effectively handle a problem that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

Please post your perspective below as to how well your hospital is managing drug shortages. What technologies are you using today that will help you predict and manage your drug inventory supply?

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