A 56-year-old woman named Jane was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. She had already received two previous therapies and was currently on a treatment that appeared to have decreased the size of her cancer per her most recent scan. When Jane arrived for her next infusion appointment, she learned that the drug was unavailable. Her oncologist informed her that her chemotherapy protocol would need to be altered mid-treatment. Jane was devastated. She knew this drug was working for her and that other medications may be less effective and cause her hair to fall out again. Unfortunately, Jane’s cancer progressed. While the impact of the drug shortage is uncertain, it was a needless complication that make her treatment experience more difficult.
Jane’s story is one of many examples of patients who continue to be impacted by drug shortages. While some patients can receive an alternative medication without life-altering effects, many cannot; and others may have to delay their care or choose alternative, and potentially not as effective, therapies.
Compounding the impact on patient care and treatment outcomes is the financial toll that drug shortages are taking on hospital pharmacy staffing and budgets. Vizient estimates that U.S. hospitals spend $359 million annually on labor costs for time spent seeking supplies and implementing mitigation strategies that enable continuity of patient care.
It has always been Vizient’s mission to end drug shortages and continues to be the focus in working with member health systems, supplier partners and other key organizations to make advances towards supply assurance. And even with the successful production of 100 million additional units of essential medications for members in less than two years, it remains obvious that no one organization can solve one of the health care industry’s most pressing and enduring issues alone.
That was the catalyst for the formation of a health care industry alliance to end drug shortages in the United States. The End Drug Shortages Alliance provides a forum for stakeholders across the industry—including hospitals and health systems—to share ideas and look for ways to consolidate efforts to accelerate sustainable solutions.
“Patients and providers have had to suffer the consequences of drug shortages for too long. It’s a problem that is too critical and complex to tackle as individual organizations,” says Dan Kistner, Pharm.D., Vizient group senior vice president, pharmacy solutions. “It will take all stakeholders working collectively with a common goal to end drug shortages in order to see real and effective change.”
Dan Kistner shares his passion to end drug shortages.
Solving a multi-faceted problem requires a multi-faceted approach
Drug shortages have been an ongoing challenge for hospital pharmacies for decades. But it was the COVID-19 pandemic and the exponential increase in demand for certain medications that finally made this enduring challenge a more fully understood national security issue.
“During the first wave of the pandemic, for example, demand for anesthesia drugs used for ventilation increased by 280% during April 2020 compared to January 2020,” says Kistner. Supply and demand are factors that can cause drug shortages. Others include manufacturing problems, business decisions, regulatory issues, raw material issues and more.
“Because the causes of drug shortages are multi-faceted, solutions to address the issue must be, too,” says Kistner. The alliance—which is open to a diverse array of hospitals and health systems as well as supply chain, industry and other stakeholders—will focus on initiatives related to transparency redundancy, quality, and production of additional supply.
The group, which currently includes more than 40 member organizations—consisting of health systems, supply chain, industry and other stakeholders—and continues to grow, recently met and approved its vision and mission, along with discussing the critical nature of essential medications.
Building on a commitment to members
Leading the creation of the alliance builds upon Vizient’s long-standing commitment to creating strategies to address drug shortages and advance supply assurance. “We’ve been working to help ensure redundancy and resiliency for years,” says Kistner.