Impact of the Propofol Shortage on Anesthesiologists: Q&A With ASA President Alexander Hannenberg

Alexander A. Hannenberg, MD, president of American Society of Anesthesiologists discusses the current propofol shortage and other challenges facing anesthesiologists.

Q: Has the propofol shortage affected the way you and other anesthesiologists practice?  

Dr. Alexander Hannenberg: 
Over the past several months, we've occasionally needed to find alternatives to propofol infusion for long procedures in order to protect our limited supply. This has only occasionally been necessary. The propofol shortage is made considerably more challenging by the simultaneous shortages of other anesthesia induction agents such as thiopental, etomidate or ketamine and we are still monitoring the impact of the recent announcement from Teva that they will no longer be producing propofol.  

Q: How have you and other anesthesiologists been able to continue to provide propofol to patients given the restricted supply?

AH: We've relied on the supply of imported propofol that was made available on ASA's request to the Food and Drug Administration. However, individual situations vary from facility to facility and the shortage may be more acute for some.

The steps needed to produce a reliable supply of propofol and other important drugs are complex and will require cooperation of the specialty, federal agencies and manufacturers. This will not be easy but as the demands on anesthesia providers increase, we cannot be compromised by sudden disruptions in the availability of key pharmaceuticals. ASA is poised to be a leader in this effort.

Q: While the propofol shortage is a current major challenge for the specialty, what other challenges are impacting how you practice?

AH: We need to raise the profile of perioperative electronic health records and achieve support for deployment of such systems. We need to ensure that we develop a new generation of anesthesiology researchers and maintain the phenomenal pace of discovery and practice improvement that I've seen over my career. Like other specialties, it's critical that anesthesiologists are thoroughly engaged in the implementation of healthcare reform so that it can be made to strengthen the practice of our specialty and improve the care we deliver to our patients.  

Q: What are the biggest opportunities you see for the specialty at this time?

AH: We believe that the specialty's investment in clinical data collection through the Anesthesia Quality Institute has enormous potential to define best practices and provide performance benchmarking data to anesthesiologists for personal practice improvement.  The clinical database will fuel a great variety of clinical outcomes research.

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