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Managing and avoiding drug supply shortages

How can we prevent patients chasing after drugs which are suffering from shortages?

Currently, the situation with medicines on the Slovak market is literally tense. Many medicines are missing from pharmacies.

SUKL does not have the information about drug usage, thus it is hard to avoid drug shortages on the market. Consequently, doctors are not aware of drug availability and therefore they can prescribe drugs that are not available. Patients are then left to their own devices to run around the pharmacies or to ask about potential alternative medicines. 

The Ministry of Health and NCZI have access to datasets tracking drug usage which are collected by health insurance companies and by NCZI themselves. Unfortunately, these datasets have various time delays. Furthermore, they are not paired with datasets from SUKL tracking the drug import and distribution..

In the end, this may lead to the situation when a patient is running from pharmacy to pharmacy trying to get the drug they got prescribed but with no effect just because the drug is not available.

Challenge description

The COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine highlighted the issue of the availability of medicines not only in Slovakia and Europe, but all over the world.

Currently, the situation with medicines on the Slovak market is literally tense. Many medicines are missing from pharmacies, which must not be missing from home medicine cabinets. These are medicines for the treatment of intestinal problems, or those for the treatment of the problem of stuffy nose and nasal cavities. These are mostly over-the-counter medicines. However, those that doctors prescribe via eRecept are also missing. These are mainly those that patients use to adjust blood pressure, treat blood clots or the cardiology and vascular system. These are vital for many patients. (1)

Data on the import and consumption of medicines in Slovakia are broken down in various institutions (ŠÚKL, NCZI, ZP). ŠÚKL only has data on the import of medicines and data on the quantity and type of medicines delivered to the domestic or foreign market from wholesale distributors (see § 18 of Act No. 362/2011 Coll. on Medicines and Medical Devices). ŠÚKL does not collect other data. NCZI has available quarterly data on drug consumption and monthly reports on health care reimbursement from health insurance companies. These data sources do not provide all the necessary information and are simultaneously processed with different time shifts.

(1) E.g. News from 18.8.2022 on this link

Challenge vision

The main challenge is two-fold:

  • Use the currently available data sources to estimate the risk of shortage or unavailability of categorized medicines within a reasonable time horizon
  • Define the changes necessary for this algorithm to work as accurately as possible

The solutions should focus on:

  • Development of functional algorithm which is able to estimate the risk of unavailability of drugs within a reasonable time horizon
  • Design of optimal processes for data reporting, processing and sharing so that the tool for drug shortage alerts has the best impact possible while the administrative burden of manual reports is decreased significantly.

Solutions should avoid (non-targets):

  • Solutions with primary outputs of dashboards and wireframes design
  • Specific software tools definition

Additional Information: