Three ways providers should address drug shortages

May 31, 2016

Preventing drug shortages requires a “swat team” mentality by all, including FDA, manufacturers, group purchasing organizations (GPOs), and health systems. Here’s what healthcare providers should do about the issue.

Preventing drug shortages requires a “swat team” mentality by all, including FDA, manufacturers, group purchasing organizations (GPOs), and health systems.

AlkireFor starters, faster FDA approvals would help to eliminate the backlog of generic medications, says Michael Alkire, chief operating officer for Charlotte, North Carolina-based Premier, a national alliance of hospitals and healthcare providers. Efforts are underway by FDA to expedite the process of getting new entrants into the marketplace to help drive competition and create healthier markets.

In addition, Kristy Hawley, MPH, scholar, George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences Office for Clinical Practice Innovation, Washington, D.C., believes that policymakers, manufacturers, physician-led organizations, and patient advocacy groups should aggressively explore the root cause of drug shortages at the national level.

HawleyShe also says hospitals should continue to demand high-quality and timely information from FDA and manufacturers about the availability of medically necessary drugs so that pharmacies can develop protocols to protect patients and providers-who may be forced to prescribe drugs they are not familiar with.

Here are three other ways hospitals and providers can help address drug shortage problems:

  • Develop strong strategies at the hospital level. While FDA works with pharmaceutical companies to resolve drug shortages, healthcare professionals may need to identify alternative treatments for their patients, says Capt. Valerie Jensen, RPh, associate director, Drug Shortage Staff, FDA, Silver Spring, Maryland. In hospitals and health systems, the pharmacy department can play an important role in developing and implementing appropriate strategies and processes for informing practitioners of shortages and ensuring the safe and effective use of therapeutic alternatives.
  • Alert FDA to inaccuracies. FDA posts information received from pharmaceutical manufacturers on its FDA Drug Shortages website and encourages them to provide as much information as possible regarding the reason for the shortage and the anticipated duration, plus details about available emergency supplies.
    FDA encourages healthcare professionals to inform the agency if they learn of a shortage that is not posted on FDA’s website; sometimes that is the first notification the agency receives, although companies are required by law to notify FDA of supply disruptions for certain medications. Another way healthcare professionals can assist is to alert the agency if information on the website doesn't agree with what healthcare professionals are experiencing, Jensen says.
  • Partner up. Finally, closely working with group purchasing organizations, which leverage their combined purchasing power to advocate for lower pricing on high-quality products for hospitals and health systems, has proven to be an effective way for providers to address this issue, Alkire says.

Karen Appold is a medical writer in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania.