Drug Shortages Lead to Dangerous Medical Errors, Study Finds

On behalf of Brown & Crouppen, P.C. posted in Medical Malpractice on Monday, May 2, 2011

Hospitals and pharmacies across the U.S. lack easy access to hundreds of prescription drugs, according to a recent study written by a health care alliance. The drug shortages, described as a “crisis” by the American Society of Health System Pharmacists, contributed to at least 1,000 medical malpractice incidents that have sickened and even killed patients.

The report was released in March by Premier Inc. The group found that pharmacies had trouble keeping more than 240 drugs in stock last year. Nearly 90 percent of facilities had an issue keeping at least one drug in the last six months of 2010 that may have damaged patient care. The shortages were not isolated incidents: most of the pharmacies had the problem six or more times during that period.

Most of the drugs in short supply are vital to the patients who take them. According to the American Society of Health System Pharmacists, 150 “medically necessary” drugs are low in quantity. The figure has doubled in five years, and is the worst it has been since the pharmacists’ group began monitoring supplies.

The shortages cause more than inconvenience and expense for patients. An article in the Ventura County Star cites a nationwide survey in which health providers admit to 1,000 medical errors due to drug shortages. Typically, these errors involve mishandling of substitute medications the pharmacists and physicians are not used to dealing with. Patients receive improper doses and are sickened, sometimes fatally. The medical error survey reported two patients who died after being given a potent painkiller at a dose appropriate for the much more mild morphine. Another patient, an infant, was given a blood thinner meant for adults.

One reason for the shortages is that drug makers do not have provide any notice if they are discontinuing a drug unless they are the only one that makes it. A bill proposed in Congress would require manufacturers to give at least six months’ notice, to give pharmacies more time to adjust.

Source: The Ventura County Star, “Persistent drug shortages across the U.S. lead to medical errors,” Lee Bowman, April 30, 2011

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