Global shortage of dye used in CT scans causing challenges for Minnesota hospitals

Hospitals across the globe are facing shortages of a medical dye that is used daily for medical imaging, such as CT scans.

COVID-19 shutdowns in China earlier this year led to supply chain problems with intravenous, or IV, contrast dye, which is produced in a China factory. American medical societies have been providing guidance to hospitals on ways to conserve the dye.

"We give IV contrast in the patient's veins to enhance a specific organ of interest what we're looking at. It could be looking for a bleeding inside the body or a stroke or infection, or in my case, we look for a blockage of arteries of the heart," said Dr. Sharath Subramanian, a cardiologist at CentraCare. "To look for artery blockages, the best way to do this is contrast, and there's no alternative for that."

A spokesperson for the Minnesota Hospital Association said in part, the shortage is "presenting a challenge for our hospital and health systems, and they are working hard, like with any other pharmaceutical shortage, to put in plans to serve their patients."

Subramanian said due to the global shortage of the dye, his hospital has been exploring other options, such as conducting a different type of scan, conducting a scan without using the dye or using less of the dye.

Fox 9 also checked in with other Minnesota hospitals. Mayo Clinic and Allina health both told Fox 9 they're aware of the shortage and they're conserving IV contrast dye.

Allina Health said it is "implementing the conservation efforts system-wide to reduce contrast usage, conserve supplies and manage the worldwide shortage of contrast agents used for diagnostic CT imaging, and interventional radiology and cardiology procedures."

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Mayo Clinic said the hospital is "conserving intravenous contrast as a proactive measure to ensure adequate supply to meet the needs of our patients."

Subramanian said between N95 masks and personal protective equipment, hospitals have learned how to get by amid supply chain problems.

"We are aware of this problem more than anything else. There's a lot of muscle memory built to identify a problem and prioritize it," he explained.

He is asking his patients not to panic because at CentraCare, the shortage of dye has not led to a delay in care. But because CT scans are a cornerstone in helping diagnose a problem and there are still backlogs of patients who had to put off medical care during the pandemic, Subramanian worries what will happen as time goes on.

"If this is not solved by mid-summer, it'll be a concern," Subramanian said.

Here is the full statement from the Minnesota Hospital Association:

"Supply chain issues, caused by COVID-19 shutdowns in China, are causing a significant global shortage of intravenous contrast used in imaging procedures. The omnipaque shortage is presenting a challenge for our hospital and health systems, and they are working hard, like with any other pharmaceutical shortage, to put in plans to serve their patients. MHA is closely monitoring the situation and working with our members to identify mitigation and conservation strategies. This latest critical shortage is another urgent reminder that we need to build strong and redundant supply chains when it comes to important medical supplies, such as pharmaceuticals, so that patients can get the care they need when they need it. MHA has reached out to both private and public sector stakeholders to ask for any assistance they can provide as we manage this situation in the weeks and months to come."