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Hospitals running short of IV contrast dye

By Nicholas Gerbis
Published: Monday, July 4, 2022 - 5:05am
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Hospitals nationwide are facing shortages of an IV contrast dye after a COVID-19 lockdown in Shanghai cut supplies from the chief supplier, which is operated by GE Healthcare.

"They essentially had to cut back on production pretty significantly, by about 75%. So providers who are relying on that particular IV contrast tracer really had to scramble, and a lot of places had to start to ration or even omit scans that utilize that particular tracer," said Dr. Alex Bowman, co-director of the genitourinary oncology program at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center.

The dye, called Omnipaque, is used in CT scans and other medical imaging to set tissues apart from tumors, spot blockages and monitor the structure of coronary arteries.

"A lot of these studies can be done without contrast. But sometimes it's very difficult to tell the difference between a lymph node or a blood vessel, and often those are right next to each other. Some organs don't show up very well on a CT scan; for example, the liver is a essentially a big gray blob, if you're doing a scan without contrast," said Bowman.

Hospitals are reserving the dye for urgent cases and finding workarounds when possible. But Bowman said some applications, like its use in coronary angiograms, permit no substitutions.

"That is a little bit more of a critical application, because there's really no replacement for that," he said.

Bowman said Banner MD Anderson mainly uses a different dye, and other Banner sites have shuffled supplies — though they still must be judicious in their use. But he added that not all hospitals have that capacity.

"They're having to scramble a lot more because they can't so much rob Peter to pay Paul, like we've been doing," Bowman said.

Bowman said the current shortage illustrates an all-too-common problem: healthcare's reliance on specialized products made by only a few providers.

"At any given time, there are usually a couple of medications in the oncology space that are somewhat limited due to availability," he said. "There is not a lot of resilience in the system, if we run into major shortfalls in production for those devices or medications. And so I think we need to do better as a medical community as a whole in making sure there's a little bit more redundancy in the system."

The supplier hopes to make up the shortfall by later this summer.

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