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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


Four Ways to Plan to Protect Patient Health in a Medical Supply Shortage

Author: Laura Kwinn Wolf, Ph.D., Director, ASPR Division of Critical Infrastructure Protection and Michael Eltringham, Stakeholder Engagement Analyst, ASPR Critical Infrastructure Protection Program Contract Support
Published Date: 1/25/2019 11:59:00 AM
Category: Public Health Preparedness; Exercises & Trainings;

Blog Series: Anticipating and Managing the Challenges Associated with Supply Shortages

According to FDA, there are currently 109 drugs in shortage in the U.S. Supply shortages threaten patient health even in the best circumstances, but their number and impact can be exacerbated by a prolonged disaster response. With so many shortages, one is likely to impact your hospital or healthcare facility at some point.  By planning to cope with the impacts of a supply shortage, your hospital or healthcare facility will be better prepared to continue providing patient care when one occurs.

Make sure your facility has a plan in place that is tailored to meet the needs of different kinds of shortages, as supply shortages often call for specialized practices and procedures. What is the protocol when your inventory is depleted? Do you know your federal, state, and local government contacts? How do you manage an influx of patients? 

Here are four ways you can plan to protect patient health before a critical supply shortage threatens your facility:

  • Make an Overarching Plan for Supply Chain ShortagesWhen supply counts run low, managing and tracking inventory requires careful consideration, which means having staff dedicate more time to resource management planning. Additionally, certain administration techniques take more time than others. For example, an IV “push” typically takes longer to administer than a normal IV injection. Small additions to an ever-increasing workload during a shortage can add up and overwhelm staff. This can also lead to unanticipated overtime costs, which can impact facility budgets. Drug shortages can affect all aspects of health care, but every specialty has different challenges to face and overcome.  Check out the ASPR TRACIE factsheet on drug shortages and disasters to learn about common considerations for handling supply shortages.
  • Train Staff to Handle Supply ShortagesOnce you have developed an effective plan to manage supply shortage, make sure that your facility’s staff is trained and all relevant personnel have been assigned a role in handling the shortage.  Learn more about ways that you can work with your staff to manage supply shortages in the ASHP Guidelines on Managing Drug Product Shortages.
  • Incorporate Supply Shortages into COOP: Facilities should consider supply shortages when building and updating all continuity of operations (COOP) and emergency response plans. The first step in this process is building a comprehensive emergency response plan. ASPR TRACIE has a topic collection with resources to help you build an emergency response plan. These materials provide guidance on critical components of emergency response plans as well as templates and guidelines.
  • Plan with Your Health Care Coalition: Health care coalitions can also be a valuable resource in responding to and managing supply shortages. Health care coalitions are groups of individual healthcare and response organizations in specific regions that work to prepare for and respond to disasters. To find the HCC in your state, consult ASPR’s state-by-state list or interactive map.  ASPR TRACIE also has a number of HCC resources that may be useful to you and your staff, including its Hospital Disaster Pharmacy Calculator

Many shortages can create situations in which hospital staff are faced with unique problems and challenges. By ensuring that your facility has clear plans and protocols in place to deal with supply shortages, you increase the likelihood that your staff will be able to manage the situation effectively, allocate resources appropriately, and get supplies to people who need them most.

The Anticipating and Managing the Challenges Associated with Supply Shortages blog series is designed to highlight actions that healthcare organizations can take to protect patient health in the event of a supply shortage.  The next post in this series will look at recommendations and resources for handling impacts to your staff caused by a supply shortage.   To stay up to date as new blog posts are published, follow us on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.


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