With Saline in Short Supply, Hospitals Look for Alternatives

Lena J. Weiner, May 16, 2014

A widespread shortage of saline solution is forcing hospital pharmacists and healthcare clinicians to stretch existing supplies, find workarounds, and formulate substitutes.


As director of pharmacy and materials management at Union Hospital of Cecil County in Elkton, MD, David Jaspan, RPh, MBA, is used to dealing with shortages of pharmaceutical products. He's not, however, used to supply problems affecting one of the most basic hospital staples—intravenous saline solution.

"It's not just saline solution, it's all IV solutions in general," says Jaspan. Since saline is a key ingredient to administering drugs to hospital patients, this is an especially tough shortage to face. "Most inpatients get IVs… I'd say 85% of inpatients are affected by this," says Jaspan.

The Federal Drug Administration has issued three updates so far this year on the nationwide shortage of saline. The dearth of the product is forcing healthcare clinicians and hospital pharmacists to stretch existing supplies and find alternatives.

Drug shortages are not uncommon. But hospitals have more experience dealing with not enough cancer drugs than not enough bags of saline.

"We've been dealing with national drug back orders for years. We're used to this in pharmacy, but it's unusual to see [a shortage] at one of the most basic levels with solutions… This is just another one in a long line of unavailable products," Jaspan says.

Lena J. Weiner

Lena J. Weiner is an associate editor at HealthLeaders Media.


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