Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

50+: Live Better, Longer

Font Size

Survey: Hospital Drug Shortages Hurt Patient Care

Hospital Pharmacists Must Divert Time From Patients in Order to Manage Drug Shortage Problems
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

July 14, 2011-- Hospital drug shortages cost hospitals millions each year and may adversely affect patient care, according to a new survey.

''Drug shortages are essentially touching health care systems across the board," says researcher Burgunda V. Sweet, PharmD, director of the drug information and medication use policy at the University of Michigan Health System, Ann Arbor.

She surveyed hospital pharmacy directors nationwide, asking how the growing problem of drug shortages has affected them and the patients.

The report is published online in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacists.

The pharmacists' survey was released at the same time as a survey by the American Hospital Association, which found similar problems. The American Hospital Association survey found that 99.5% of the 820 hospitals responding had had one or more drug shortages in the last six months. As a result, 82% of hospitals said they delayed patient treatment.

Survey of Pharmacists

Sweet and colleagues sent an online survey to 1,322 members of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, which publishes the journal.

All were directors of pharmacy. The directors were asked to identify which of the 30 most recent drug shortages had affected their health system.

They were asked to tell what they did to manage the shortage. They also estimated staff time needed to solve the problem and calculated labor costs due to the shortages.

In all, 353 responded. Among the findings:

  • Labor costs to manage the shortages were estimated at $216 million a year.
  • Pharmacists spent a median of nine hours a week (half spent more, half less) to manage the shortages.
  • The pharmacy technicians spent a median of eight hours a week dealing with the shortages.

"Compared to six or seven years ago, the time they spend has tripled," says Cynthia Reilly, RPh, director of practice development division at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. She is a co-author on the study.

"Pharmacists and other health care providers who should be providing care to patients are being diverted," she tells WebMD.

More than 80% of the respondents had a shortage with three different drugs, including:

  • Succinylcholine injection, a muscle relaxant used during surgery.
  • Dextrose 50% syringe, used to restore blood glucose levels.
  • Epinephrine injection, used in cardiac emergencies.

In 2010, the number of drug shortages totaled 211, the researchers say, citing data from the University of Utah. It is the highest number recorded in a single year. In 2007, there were 120 drug shortages. The FDA tally for 2010 is slightly lower, at 178.

Today on WebMD

Eating for a longer, healthier life.
woman biking
How to stay vital in your 50s and beyond.
womans finger tied with string
Learn how we remember, and why we forget.
man reviewing building plans
Do you know how to stay healthy as you age?
fast healthy snack ideas
how healthy is your mouth
dog on couch
doctor holding syringe
champagne toast
Two women wearing white leotards back to back
Man feeding woman
two senior women laughing