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Hospitals Dealing With Drug Shortage

By Pam Cunningham
Published On: Aug 17 2011 12:42:22 PM CDT
Updated On: May 31 2011 10:20:34 AM CDT
READING, Pa. -

Hospitals around the country are dealing with a shortage of medications. And that means doctors have to look for alternatives when their first choice of treatment isn't available.

An official from Reading Hospital explained how they are dealing with the problem.

Pharmacists at Reading Hospital said the problem has been getting worse for the past several years, but they say they are working around it to make sure patient care doesn't suffer. At Reading Hospital a pharmacist prepared a series of injections prescribed by a doctor. But managing what is available for treatment has become more complicated because of drug shortages.

"It has gotten progressively worst in the last 4 to 5 years," said John Mercer, Pharmacy Director of Operations at Reading Hospital.

"We try to be very pro-active about anticipating what the shortages are. We are constantly monitoring the FDA website. What are the shortages?," he said.

The FDA reports there are many causes for drug shortages. "Any interruption in the supply chain can lead to a shortage," said Mercer.

Mercer said some of the drugs that are hard to come by include those that are used to treat colon cancer and others that maintain blood pressure and calcium levels. But he said doctors have other choices. "Really in all the cases there are alternatives," said Mercer, "It may mean the patient needs to be monitored differently or something in the treatment needs to be different."

Mercer said in some cases, doctors may have to go directly to the manufacturer. "That can lead to an about 24-hour delay," said Mercer.

Delays and substitutes are his reality. "It has gotten progressively worst," said Mercer, "I don't really see a whole lot on the horizon that makes me think it's going to get better."

Mercer said he is holding out hope for Congressional legislation that would require manufacturers to tell the FDA if they plan to stop making a drug or if there is any reason for a possible shortage. The Preserving Access to Life-Saving Medications Act was introduced in February. It's still in committee.

But in the mean time, Mercer said there are regular questions the hospital has to find answers to. "What are the drug shortages? What is our current status with supply? Do we anticipate these shortages would impact our patients at Reading Hospital?"