A new survey reveals ongoing national medication, medical supply, and medical equipment shortages are harming patients. The survey was issued by the independent, nonprofit patient safety organization ECRI and its affiliate, the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP).

According to the two groups, the survey reveals that providing appropriate care is becoming increasingly challenging, leading to instances of unsafe practices, compromised care, and harmful, otherwise avoidable patient safety incidents.

Sixty percent of respondents reported shortages of more than 20 drugs, single-use supplies, or other medical devices during the six months prior to the survey. Respondents say care quality has been broadly affected by the shortages, including in surgery and anesthetics (74%), emergency care (64%), pain management (52%), cardiology (45%), hematology and oncology (44%), infectious diseases (39%), and obstetrics and gynecology (37%).

The nearly 200 respondents included pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, procurement specialists, physicians, and nurses working in community, teaching, pediatric, and cancer care hospitals, among other care locations. The survey was conducted in July 2023.

“While medication and supply shortages have been widely reported across healthcare, we now know with certainty that these shortages are causing preventable harm and have the potential to cause even more if they are not addressed soon,” said Marcus Schabacker, MD, PhD, president and CEO of ECRI. “There are strategies hospitals can use to reduce the impact of shortages, but they are a deviation from standard practice and resource-intensive—two characteristics that themselves can increase the likelihood of preventable harm.”

Most respondents reported that shortages have compromised patient care, with half saying shortages have delayed patient treatments and one-third reporting they were unable to provide patients with optimally recommended drugs or treatments. A quarter of respondents said they were aware of at least one error related to a drug, supply, or device shortage.

Specific examples of the impact of shortages reported in the survey include:

  • Interruption or delays in chemotherapy regimens
  • Administration of more opioid analgesia due to lidocaine shortages
  • Dissemination of incorrect medication dosage instructions to patients
  • Postponement or cancellation of surgeries

“The extent to which medication, supply, and equipment shortages are negatively impacting patient care is inexcusable,” said Rita K. Jew, PharmD, MBA, president of ISMP. “While pharmacies and hospitals can triage shortages short-term, we need long-term, nationally coordinated solutions to solve the persistent shortages we’ve witnessed repeatedly over the last several years.”