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COVID-19 Pandemic Causes Global IV Contrast Dye Shortage

May 12, 2022

Kansas City, Kan. — More than 2 years into the pandemic, COVID-19 impacts continue to ripple. Today, the global healthcare community is working to manage an extreme shortage of iodinated IV contrast dye – commonly used in CT scans –caused by a COVID-driven shutdown of a China-based manufacturing facility in Shanghai. Though production has resumed, supply shortages are likely to continue into the summer.

As is true for our peers around the world, The University of Kansas Health System must conserve our limited contrast dye supply for the most critical uses – such as in stroke, cardiovascular and cancer care. Fortunately, as the health system is part of our region’s premier academic medical center, we have the expertise and resources to effectively revise care plans for all patients who depend on us.

“This is not new territory for us,” says Philip Johnson, MD, clinical service chief of radiology at the health system. “We are just going to have to be much more careful and thoughtful about the use of contrast during this period of shortage. We have alternative ways to get our answers. We can place more emphasis on the physical exam. We can use MRI, ultrasound and other tests. We do not have to have dye for every study.”

A manageable situation

As the health system along with our community in Kansas City, the region and beyond navigate this shortage, we are reevaluating all plans for CT scans with IV contrast dye. On a patient-by-patient basis, we will determine the best path forward. This could include canceling or postponing CT scans with contrast, shifting to an alternate means of diagnosis that does not require contrast dye, or proceeding with plans in which the use of IV contrast dye is crucial to lifesaving or limb-sparing care.

While the shortage presents its challenges, the situation is manageable.

“We must not run out of contrast dye,” Dr. Johnson says. “There are interventions that absolutely require it, like for strokes or heart catheterizations, where providers are taking catheters up into the heart or brain. But for many other needs, contrast dye is not essential to managing effective treatment.”

Area providers are working together to manage through this shortage while continuing to provide high-quality patient care.

“That’s one of the best things about the pandemic,” said Steven Stites, MD, chief medical officer for the health system. “We can be fierce competitors, but when it comes to trying to make sure we can all take care of folks, we are all in it together.”

To all of our patients and referring providers – we are committed to delivering safe, timely, effective care. In the upcoming days and weeks, care teams will communicate with patients affected by this shortage. We will continue to share updates as they are available.

This is not new territory for us. We are just going to have to be much more careful and thoughtful about the use of contrast during this period of shortage. We have alternative ways to get our answers. – Philip Johnson, MD

Clinical service chief of radiology

Contrast dye shortage FAQ

You may have a question about the contrast media shortage related to your care or to the care of a loved one. We’ll answer the most frequently asked questions here.

  • It is injected into the veins and lights up, allowing a radiologist or cardiologist or other provider to see how blood is flowing through certain organs, or where a clot is located.

  • No. Our clinical teams will carefully review all planned CT scans with contrast. Many such procedures are elective and quite safe to postpone, and others can be transitioned to equally effective diagnostic tests that do not rely on contrast dye. We are committed to making safe decisions for every individual.

  • Some options are non-contrast CT scan, MRI scan or ultrasound study.

  • We are actively working with our payers to educate them about this situation. We are working with partners like the Kansas Hospital Association, the Missouri Hospital Association and metropolitan area and regional councils. We want to do everything we can to help ensure patients aren’t financially impacted by changes in care plans that are necessary because of the contrast dye shortage.

  • The MRI uses a contrast agent called gadolinium. There is no shortage of that. This is not the contrast dye used in most radiation therapies. This is the one used for intravenous contrast, primarily associated with CT scans.

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