Unexpected Drug Shortages – Are You Prepared?

Drug shortages are a frequent problem hospitals have to navigate, but a recent shortage of note is particularly unexpected. Sodium Bicarbonate, aka baking soda, is reported to be experiencing severe shortages. This drug is used to reduce acidity in the blood, which presents in a number of conditions. As a result, hospitals are being forced to postpone treatments or transfer patients to better-stocked facilities. This is only the most recent example of a hospital staple suddenly unavailable due to a combination of supply issues.

What Causes Shortages

Medication shortages, particularly of this severity, are rarely caused by just one factor. Typically, they arise through a combination of related events, involving group purchasing organizations (GPOs), payers, and drug makers. While increased demand can be a contributing factor, supply chain issues are a likely cause in this situation.

According to Curtis McEntire, Director of Performance Services and Optimization at Omnicell, “Drug procurement collectives and GPOs are continually pressing manufacturers for lower prices. When they succeed, some drug makers find it’s no longer profitable enough to keep making certain drugs, so they drop out of the running. That leaves fewer manufacturers to supply the whole country.”

Despite fewer manufacturers in the game, hospitals still have the same level of demand for this product. It’s no secret that when supply can’t meet demand, the product is going to eventually run out.

What Hospitals Can Do

Hospitals are greatly affected by drug shortages, particularly when they aren’t prepared to navigate them. This can negatively impact patient care as well as the hospital’s reputation. Hospital executives who focus a majority of their effort on clinical care can downplay the importance of proper supply chain management. And while patient care should be the top priority, supply chain issues need to be given sufficient attention as well.

Taking an enterprise-wide look at medications across a health system can help providers and pharmacists quickly adapt in the event of a shortage. By identifying exactly where and how much of a medication is on hand, a hospital can better understand the impact of the shortage to their organization. Technology can play a key role in forecasting how long stock will last given use rates, which lets a hospital know how aggressively they should begin rationing.

Regardless of what tools are used, the sodium bicarbonate shortage reinforces the need for hospitals to have a shortage strategy in place, and make sure they’re working with the right partners to navigate these threats to patient safety.

For more information about how the Performance Center can help minimize the impact of drug shortages, as well as manage medications on a daily basis, please visit here.

Related Articles:

New York Times



4 thoughts on “Unexpected Drug Shortages – Are You Prepared?

  1. I wish it was just low prices. Actually the problem as exhaustively documented by a GAO Investigation and an American Antitrust Institute White Paper is an obscure unsafe “Safe Harbor” for healthcare kickbacks enacted by Congress. The resultant buyers’ monopoly enjoyed by GPOs and PBMs is a result of the allowance of “pay to play” contracting. Thus 90% of drugs in short supply have only one or two allocated suppliers. Repeal the safe harbor for kickbacks in the healthcare supply chain and an entire cascade of consumer friendly cost saving events will unfold.


  2. This message came to me from my Google alerts on drug shortages. This problem is going on too long and Hospital pharmacists understand the role of GPO middlemen in the supply chain of our health care system. We are supposed to have a free market manufacturing system. GPO discounts and an antitrust protected buyers monopoly for both GPOs and PBMs courtesy of the HHS Inspector General regulations make a hypocrisy of value based purchasing (MACRA) and now threaten the ethical and legal integrity of Pharmacists, Nurses, Physicians and all the members of Congress who created this national system of PATIENT UNSAFETY.
    Tine pain of resolving this is that all health care professionals are in a master-servant employment relationship with hospitals and health care corporations and are therefore no longer able to freely speak about their professional ethical obligations under rule of law. Time for ASHSP to publically denounce this system along with AMA, ACP ANA and The AHA. As a nation we must ask the American People for their political help here if we are to be worthy of their professional trust. To congress the message is simpler: HAVE YOU NO DECENCY TO PRESERVE THE PUBLIC HEALTH OF YOUR CONSTITUENTS?


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