In a historic boardroom at Massachusetts General Hospital this week, the Emergency Preparedness Team assembled in what they say has become an all too frequent occurrence. More than two dozen doctors, nurses, pharmacists, tech specialists and others gathered around a conference table, a "war room" of sorts, to address the shortage of a crucial drug: the blood-thinner Heparin.
"It is simply not possible for us to do heart surgery without Heparin," Dr. Thoralf Sundt, chief of cardiac surgery, emphasized to the room.
The meetings, according to Dr. Paul Biddinger, chief of the division of emergency preparedness, have become part of a new reality — one in which the hospital has to prepare for running short of critical drugs.
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"This is the fourth time in the last two years we've had to activate our hospital's emergency operations plan for a major drug shortage," said Biddinger. "It's almost unfathomable in modern medicine. I never thought we would get to a point in the U.S. healthcare system where we wouldn't have essential medicines to be able to treat patients."
In the case of Heparin, said Biddinger, the hospital got as close as two weeks away from having to cancel lifesaving cardiac surgery, NBC News reported.