Managing Drug Product Shortages in the Era of COVID-19

Responding to and managing drug shortages is nothing new for hospitals. But rapidly rising demand for medications due to COVID-19 is placing more pressure than ever on hospitals and health systems to appropriately manage drug inventory to support patient care.

In short supply are medications used to relieve pain, alleviate breathing difficulties and sedate coronavirus patients. And with a second wave of COVID-19 expected to collide with flu season this fall, the situation has the potential to grow much worse.

Julie Rubin, CompleteRx director of clinical services, says that high-acuity COVID-19 patients are straining hospital intensive care units and depleting the supply of numerous critical care medications. “Propofol is one drug in short supply. Many mechanically ventilated COVID-19 patients require very high doses of the medication to provide adequate sedation, so hospitals are going through their supplies very quickly. Making buying decisions based on past history may not be an accurate way to forecast a hospital’s current need,” she says.


How Can Your Organization Better Manage Shortages?

Your hospital can lead effective drug shortage management by ensuring you have a well-defined management strategy in place. To help your organization better prepare for drug shortages, consider the following suggestions:


Assess inventory on hand. Pharmacy staff should assess the inventory on hand and estimate the time period it will cover. Know how many available doses you have in all of your different locations, including your central supply, automated dispensing cabinets and inpatient units.


Keep it balanced. Having the right amount of inventory is a balancing act. Keeping inventory too lean can cause problems, but stockpiling a product in advance of an anticipated shortage isn’t a best practice either. Work with your group purchasing organization to determine the right product supply levels for your organization’s needs.


Track and trend to anticipate future needs. Estimate how long your hospital can endure a shortage based on available quantities and historical usage. Your organization should assess recent usage patterns as well. For example, a drug used to care for critically ill COVID-19 patients today may be used in larger quantities now than it was a year ago.

“Your drug shortage committee should be monitoring medications that are short or expected to be in short supply,” says Rubin. “Mindful watching and monitoring ensures you know how much you have and how long it will last and helps you plan your next steps.”


Have a plan. Your drug shortage committee should look at how to preserve drugs in short supply for the patients who need them most. That may mean using the drugs for the highest risk patients or shortening the duration of medication therapy.


CompleteRx stays abreast of potential drug supply issues. In advance of a pending drug shortage, we work with client facilities to provide therapeutic alternative guidelines. These shortage memos give pharmacy and medical staff alternative agents, dosing and potential side effects.

Rubin also emphasizes the importance of evolving your plan based on new information. “Drug shortages can be very unpredictable, so it’s important to continually monitor the situation and make adjustments,” she says. “Sometimes hospitals catch on to a shortage too late in the game and don’t have adequate plans in place.”


Advance Preparation is the Key to Success

While it’s difficult to prepare for every potential drug shortage, proper planning can reduce the impact on patient care and supply costs and prevent small problems from turning into crises.

CompleteRx provides hospital pharmacy teams with comprehensive resources and support to mitigate potential drug supply issues. We also communicate with pharmacy buyers about shortages, newly released generics and medications. Buyers are also an integral part of monthly clinical calls where CompleteRx shares updates on shortages and mitigation strategies.


To learn more about how CompleteRx can help your organization navigate the complexities of drug shortages, please connect with us today!

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