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Contrast agent shortage forcing some imaging rationing in US

by Thomas Dworetzky, Contributing Reporter | May 20, 2022
Business Affairs CT X-Ray
Hospitals are starting to scramble as a contrast agent shortage from the Shanghai shutdown is disrupting supplies.

The GE plant there supplies contrast to roughly half of U.S. hospitals and imaging centers, Nancy Foster, vice president of quality and patient safety policy at the American Hospital Association, estimated to NBC news.

"There are a lot of conversations underway at the national level about how you appropriately diversify sources of critically needed supplies so that a weather event, a political event, something else that happens does not wipe out your ability to have access to that supply" Foster added, noting that this latest challenge underscores that, “we need a coming-together of all the manufacturers, the providers, the federal agencies to think through: How do we create that more resilient supply chain?”

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The crunch is causing rationing of nonurgent procedures.

“It's very difficult to know what harms are going to occur from this, either from a delayed diagnosis or a misdiagnosis,” Dr. Matthew Davenport, vice chair of the American College of Radiology commission on quality and safety, told the news site, advising that he is “confident that there will be some delayed diagnoses or misdiagnoses because we are using imaging techniques that are not optimized, not perfect.”

According to a new report in the journal Radiology, out May 19, this contrast crunch is just the latest warning of challenges to be faced across the entire healthcare supply chain.

“We are facing issues similar to those we faced in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, caused by a limited supply of an important pharmaceutical, critical to our ability to care for our patients,” warned Dr. Thomas M. Grist, chair of the Department of Radiology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison, and lead author of the report.

He did note that the healthcare ecosystem is now “more adept at establishing incident command centers to implement rapid responses to the challenges we face” than earlier.

But he also stressed that events like the March Shanghai shutdown that shuttered the GE plant there for several weeks are no longer going to be such rare events — and the system needs to be ready.

“It is too easy for us to take for granted the readily available supply of something that is so important to our patients and our radiologic practices until it’s gone,” Grist said, adding that, “we need to commit to changing the supply chain so that a single event in a faraway country does not put us in this predicament again.”

When GE was faced with the plant closure resulting from the total COVID-19 lockdown in the city at the end of March, it led to a nearly 80% supply drop the company estimated would last six to eight weeks. In response it boosted output at its factory in Ireland, according to a report at the time.

"We are working around the clock to expand capacity of our iodinated contrast media products," a GE spokesperson said after the company closed its Shanghai facility for several weeks. "We are working to return to full capacity as soon as local authorities allow.”

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