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Drug shortages extracting "terrible toll" on patients: CMA

A recent survey of physicians and pharmacists indicates that drug shortages remain a "significant problem" within Canada's health care system.

The survey, a joint project of the CMA, Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPhA) and Canadian Society of Hospital Pharmacists (CSHP), was completed by 1,070 physicians and pharmacists last October.

"The survey confirms that the health and well-being of patients is being negatively affected and that physicians and pharmacists are devoting a significant amount of time to dealing with shortages, time that could be better spent improving patient care," the three groups stated in a statement issued Jan. 14.

The survey findings include:

  • 66% of MDs report that drug shortages have worsened since 2010
  • 47% of doctors said patient visits are growing longer as MDs seek appropriate drugs to substitute for those in short supply
  • 67% of physicians reported they are spending more time researching and consulting as they seek alternatives to drugs in short supply
  • 61% of hospital and community pharmacists had "difficulty sourcing a medication" during their last shift
  • more than three-quarters of pharmacists reported that drug shortages are having a "significant impact" on their workload because they have to spend more time informing other health professionals about shortages and looking for alternatives

CMA President Anna Reid said the shortages are causing problems in three separate areas: patient care, patient health and efficiency within the health care system. "Patients who can't get the medicines they need pay a terrible toll," she said. "The commitment of physicians and other professionals has helped to lessen the impact, but it comes at a price - time better spent with patients is instead being used to identify alternative drugs and therapies."

The October survey marked the CMA's second attempt to gauge physician concern about drug shortages. A January 2011 survey of members of the CMA's e-Panel, which attracted 743 respondents, found that 74% have had to deal with shortages of generic drugs they had attempted to prescribe, with the most common shortage (47%) involving antibiotic drugs such as amoxicillin.

CSHP President Doug Sellinger said the ongoing shortages are compromising providers' ability to deliver quality care. He called for creation of a "reliable, resilient system to prevent, report and manage drug shortages."

CPhA President Paula MacNeil delivered a similar message, stressing the need for a joint response by governments, industry and health care professionals. "Only through collaborative efforts will we see meaningful change," she said, noting that 75% of the association's members reported that shortages are having a "significant impact" on their work.

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