Are you concerned medicine supply chain disruptions could impact your health?


Dr Jacques Snyman | Medical Director | Pharmacologist | Agility Health | mail me

The recent civil unrest raised many concerns about medicine supply chain continuity, particularly for people living with chronic health conditions and those with higher clinical risk. The good news is that when a particular medicine is not available, there is usually no need for treatment to be disrupted.

The recent closure of a major national route and looting of warehouses caused some interruption in local manufacture and distribution of some medicines, however there is no need to panic if the specific medicine you usually take is not available.

It is most important that people do not place unnecessary pressure on the supply chain by hoarding medicines, as this only compounds the situation.

Switching to alternative brand names

COVID-19 has impacted supply chains since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, which has encouraged distributors to further strengthen contingency measures.

In many cases interruptions in the supply chain are not felt by the public, but when a specific medicine is not available there are alternative options, although in some instances a doctor’s consultation may be required.

For some medicines, there is a brand name as well as generic equivalent of the medicine with exactly the same active ingredient. This means the medicine is available from multiple sources, and the dispensing pharmacist can substitute the unavailable brand for a generic version or vice versa, if the patient’s usual medications are not available.

For certain medicines, however, only one brand is available. In such cases, there are often other medicines in the same class that can treat the same condition through the same mode of action as the original, with similar outcomes.

Your pharmacist may then phone or consult your treating doctor for guidance on the dose or specific brand to be dispensed as a replacement for your usual medicine. Depending on the condition you are receiving treatment for, you may have to visit your doctor although a telehealth consultation may suffice in this scenario.

Switching to a different mode of action

On the other hand, sometimes the only option for continuing treatment is to switch to medicine in a different class, with a different mode of action. In this case, the new medicine will work for the same condition but may have different side effects or clinical outcomes.

It is vitally important to remember that this is not a case of a simple substitution but rather a different treatment entirely. As a result, your doctor will perform a full clinical assessment in person  before providing a new prescription for the new medicine.

If critical medicine is not available in the country, the doctor may need to apply for importation of the medicine as provided for in Section 21 of the Medicines and Related Substances Act 101. This may be a lengthy process, but the pharmaceutical company can usually assist in expediting the process.

Creating a clinical risk profile for each patient

We develop a clinical risk profile for each individual member. If a particular medicine is unavailable, our system flags members who are identified as being at risk and they are advised to discuss alternatives with their treating clinicians.

Each high risk patient is allocated a Personal Health Coordinator who will contact them individually to provide support where complex interventions are required to ensure continuation of care.

When extensive clinical assessment is required to inform the change in treatment, additional doctor consultations are pre-authorised to ensure members can continue their care seamlessly to ensure the best possible health outcomes.

A proactive approach to health ensures that clinical disease risk is managed properly at all times, even when something unexpected happens such as disruption of medicine supply chains.

Healthcare funding and clinical risk models that embrace this philosophy of providing more care and additional benefits ultimately contribute to better health outcomes for members, which is also more cost effective in the long run.



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