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Drugs Rationed, Patients Kept in the Dark

Imagine going to a hospital for a treatment or procedure and being told that the hospital only had so much medicine, and they were going to give it to a different patient instead of you. Now, imagine the same scenario, only this time pretend that the hospital does not tell you that you will not get the medication. Instead, they give the medicine to another patient and leave you completely in the dark. This is exactly what is happening in dozens of healthcare facilities across the United States, as drug shortages force medical professionals to make hard decisions about who gets medication and who does not.

Shortages of Drugs Become the New Normal

As reported by a recent article in The New York Times, shortages of all types of drugs available in hospitals – ranging from antibiotics to painkillers to cancer-fighting drugs and more – has become the new normal. In fact, the American Society of Health-System Pharmaceuticals currently keeps a list of inadequate drug supplies – the list names more than 150 drug and therapeutic types.

Doctors Forced to Make Decisions About Who Gets What

The burden of the drug shortage has fallen on doctors and the patients they treat. Without enough medicine to go around, doctors are forced to make tough decisions about who gets what.

Each doctor and healthcare system has a different approach for how they handle the decision making process. Some healthcare facilities have formed committees made up of patient representatives and ethicists, while in others, individual doctors make the decisions. Some clinics have decided that certain patients – such as children – will be prioritized. In some healthcare facilities, a patient’s weight is a factor – if an obese patient is normally supposed to get two to three times the normal amount of antibiotics, this amount may be drastically reduced. Others assess patients on a case-by-case basis.

Dr. Yoram Unguru, who is an oncologist at the Children’s Hospital at Sinai, told reporters for The Times, “…we’ve got that tragic choice: two kids in front of you, you only have enough [medication] for one. How do you choose?”

The Dangers of Drug Shortages

Not only are drug shortages – and the ways in which doctors choose who gets medication – ethically concerning, but it may be dangerous as well. For example, when cancer drugs are rationed, a patient may experience more physical pain, more nausea, and more discomfort than they would otherwise. Or, if there are not enough antibiotics and pain medications around, a patient who requires an intensive and time-sensitive surgery may be put on a wait list.

Further, a lack of drugs is highly correlated with adverse events, including medication errors, disease progression, and an increased risk of death. While patients are often not told about the drug shortages because medical professionals want to protect them from stress and worry, it is hard to argue against the belief that they have the right to know.

When a Drug Shortage Leads to Harm

If your disease has progressed or if you believe that you have suffered harm as a direct result of a lack of drugs, you may be entitled to compensation. You are entitled to receive medical treatment that is delivered with a high standard of care in mind; if you do not and harm results, you need to speak with an attorney. To learn more, call our medical malpractice attorneys at Cohen, Placitella & Roth, P.C. today. We are available now at (215) 567-3500.

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