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Drug Shortages Widespread, ER Docs Say

News  |  By Christopher Cheney  
   May 22, 2018

In a survey, 91% of emergency medicine physicians say they have recently experienced a drug shortage and 44% say their facilities are inadequately prepared for a surge of patients during a disaster. 

The vast majority of emergency room physicians face shortages of key medications and doubt whether their organizations are "fully prepared" for a disaster, polling data shows.

The poll's findings were released today by the American College of Emergency Physicians in Washington, DC. The survey, which was conducted from April 30 to May 7, has 247 respondents.

"Hospitals and emergency medical services continue to suffer significant gaps in disaster preparedness, as well as national drug shortages for essential emergency medications. These shortages can last for months, or longer, and constitute a significant risk to patients," ACEP President Paul Kivela, MD, FACEP, said in a prepared statement.

The poll's findings are alarming. "Emergency physicians are concerned that our system cannot even meet daily demands, let alone during a medical surge for a natural or man-made disaster."

Most emergency medicine doctors are facing struggles with drug shortages, according to the ACEP poll:

  • 91% of ER physicians reported experiencing the shortage or absence of a critical medication in the previous month
  • For ER physicians who reported medication shortages, 41% said they have shortages for as many as five drugs and 43% said they have shortages for as many as 10 drugs
  • 69% of respondents said drug shortages have "increased a lot" over the previous year, and 16% said drug shortages have "increased a little"
  • 97% of respondents said their primary emergency department has been forced to use an alternative to a medication because of drug shortages
  • 36% of respondents said drug shortages have negatively impacted patient outcomes
  • 88% of respondents said they have lost time with patients because drug shortages force them to search for alternative medications

The poll's findings on disaster preparedness are similarly sobering:

  • When asked whether their ERs were prepared for a surge of patients during a disaster, 27% of the physicians said their facility was "not completely" ready and 17% said their facility was "not at all" ready
  • Only 22% of respondents said their hospital has access to real-time data on regional healthcare resources, and 13% said their hospital has no access

ACEP wants Congress to examine a regionalized approach the Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation (PAHPAI) Act that includes:

  • Increased coordination among public health and safety services, emergency medical services, medical facilities, trauma centers, and other entities in a region.
  • Tracking resources, including inpatient bed capacity, emergency department capacity, trauma center capacity, on-call specialist coverage, and ambulance diversion status with regional communications and hospital destination decisions.
  • Consistent, region-wide prehospital, hospital, and inter-facility data management systems.

ACEP supports the inclusion in PAHPAI of legislation that makes military trauma teams available to civilian trauma centers.

For the past several years, drug shortages have become a growing problem across the nation in virtually all areas of care delivery.

John Commins contributed to this report.

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care​ editor at HealthLeaders.

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