A shortage of a key component for some crucial imaging tests such as CT scans is leading to rationing within hospitals, patient backlogs and doctors across the United States making do with less-than-ideal alternatives across the United States.
The component is a liquid called IV contrast, which contains iodine. It can be injected into a patient’s bloodstream to highlight different structures on scans. It can reveal, for example, the location of a clot when someone is having a stroke.
The shortage stems from the temporary closure of GE Healthcare’s manufacturing facility in Shanghai in the midst of that city’s two-month “zero-Covid” lockdown. The lockdown began in early April and was mostly lifted by early June.
In a statement, GE Healthcare said that facility is in the process of getting production back up to speed. Its output had risen to 60% of capacity by May 21, and GE expects the plant to be back to nearly 100% capacity this week. The company said it had taken additional steps to mitigate the shortage, including ramping up production at a manufacturing plant in Cork, Ireland.
However, it may be weeks before that supply reaches hospitals. “There is still the challenge of bringing the contrast media across the ocean and distributing it to health care facilities across the nation,” Nancy Foster, the American Hospital Association’s vice president of quality and patient safety policy, wrote in an email.
GE Healthcare is one of four companies that supply iodine-containing contrast to the US, but the other manufacturers haven’t been able to scale up and offset the shortage, according to the Radiological Society of North America.
The hospital association estimates that about half of all hospitals in the United States rely on GE for contrast dye to perform about 20 million scans a year, or about 385,000 scans each week.
In a statement Wednesday, the US Food and Drug Administration said the supply is expected to continue increasing through June, “with a return to stocking levels in July 2022.”
Thousands of patients may be affected
Foster said the American Hospital Association doesn’t have data on how many patients have had scans delayed but believes it to be well into the thousands.
Doctors across the country say they have seen firsthand the effects of the shortage.
Oncologist Dr. Shikha Jain said her cancer patients are having trouble getting scans.