Maintaing drug inventory while providing appropriate patient care remains a daily challenge for pharmacists in light of national drug shortages. In fact, not a work day goes by where I don't deal with a drug shortage issue.

Even though I do not carry the title of pharmacy manager or procurement officer, I work on the front line of hospital pharmacy, so managing drug inventory has become a part of my daily duties.

There are a few strategies I have personally used that have been successful in keeping our department out of  "sticky situations," especially over the weekend, and all have the common denominator of communication.

Here are a few suggestions:
  • If you work in the inpatient pharmacy, encourage and ensure that pharmacy staff is maintaining inventory appropriately, whether that be by automation or writing items down in a want book. It would benefit everyone involved to keep a watchful eye for proper procedures.
  • If you work with order entry and notice unsually high doses or frequencies of a mediation that you have identified as being needed over several days, ensure that you have ample supply at the initiation of therapy. This can be done by asking your support staff, procurement officer, or walking the shelves yourself.
  • If you work clinically with physicians and have had questions about a possible start of a new medication that is not frequently used, communication is key. Speak with the procurement officer about ordering and costs before the medication order is actually written. Then, communicate this information with the pharmacists who may be working the next couple of days. This makes a huge impact on avoiding delays in therapy.
  • Teach and encourage the nursing staff to be alert of medications that they are administering frequently to patients and that notifying the pharmacy of the potential need of additional stock could prevent delays in therapy.
  • Ensure your IV room pharmacy technicians are inventorying stock daily. It is never a good thing to run out of medications, but it can even be more detrimental when your pharmacy does not have adequate supply of a parenteral drug (i.e. critical medication, chemotherapy, biologics)
  • If you get a notification of a drug that is unavailable from your distributor and you know a patient is currently receiving it, then verbally contact your procurement officer as soon as possible in order for them to possibly retrieve it from another hospital and contact clinical staff for possible therapeutic alternatives and communication with the physician.
Managing drug inventory has now become a team effort in hospital pharmacy and it would benefit every team member involved to stay alert and communicate all of the moving pieces so that the best care can be provided to patients.