National medication, medical equipment shortages harming patients, ECRI survey finds

Ongoing national medication, medical supply and medical equipment shortages are harming patients, a new survey reveals.

The survey was issued by the nonprofit patient safety organization ECRI and its affiliate, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP), and reached nearly 200 people in July. Respondents included pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, procurement specialists and clinicians across a variety of healthcare settings. 

Providing appropriate care has become increasingly difficult, leading to instances of unsafe practices, compromised care and harmful, otherwise avoidable patient safety incidents, the survey found.

Most respondents reported that shortages have compromised patient care. Half said shortages have delayed patient treatments, while a third said they were unable to provide patients with optimally recommended drugs or treatments. A quarter said they were aware of at least one error related to a drug, supply or device shortage. 

“While medication and supply shortages have been widely reported across healthcare, we now know with certainty that these shortages are causing preventable harm and have the potential to cause even more if they are not addressed soon,” Marcus Schabacker, M.D., president and CEO of ECRI, said in an announcement. “There are strategies hospitals can use to reduce the impact of shortages, but they are a deviation from standard practice and resource-intensive—two characteristics that themselves can increase the likelihood of preventable harm.” 

Six in 10 respondents reported shortages of more than 20 drugs, single-use supplies or other medical devices during the six months prior to the survey. Various specialties have had care quality affected as a result, including in surgery and aesthetics (74%), emergency care (64%), pain management (52%), cardiology (45%), hematology and oncology (44%), infectious disease (39%) and obstetrics and gynecology (37%). 

Specific examples of the impact of shortages reported in the survey included interruption or delays in chemotherapy regimens, administration of more opioid analgesia due to lidocaine shortages, dissemination of incorrect medication dosage instructions to patients and postponement or cancelation of surgeries.

“The extent to which medication, supply, and equipment shortages are negatively impacting patient care is inexcusable,” Rita K. Jew, president of ISMP, said in the announcement. “While pharmacies and hospitals can triage shortages short-term, we need long-term, nationally coordinated solutions to solve the persistent shortages we’ve witnessed repeatedly over the last several years.”


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