Recently, I was with a family member in St. Johns Hospital in St. Louis, MO as she was being prepped for surgery. A young doctor walked into the room whose confidence and outgoingness prompted me to immediately peg him as a “Type A Personality.” After a few minutes of small talk, he hooked my family member up to a new IV, produced a needle, gently sunk it into his patient’s arm and with a laugh, jovially proclaimed “I love my job because I get to stab and poison people for a living!” Yep, you guessed it, he was our Anesthesiologist.
In addition to the whole comical “stabbing” and “poisoning” shtick, this doctor was simultaneously performing numerous checks and practicing a delicate and essential science made palatable to the patient through the art of playful discourse. These peri-operative physicians have a great responsibility to their patients as they must stay engaged and alert throughout the preparation, execution and recovery of a patient’s medical procedure.
“For example, in 2002, there were nearly 500 medical malpractice payments in the US that were attributed to doctors who practice anesthesiology.”
Despite the care for the patient and attention to detail most doctors have when administering anesthesia, accidents, on occasion, still happen. For example, in 2002, there were nearly 500 medical malpractice payments in the US that were attributed to doctors who practice anesthesiology. It is estimated that there were more than 20 million surgeries in the US that year. “Accidents, on occasion” might be quite a bit of an overstatement of the issue, but regardless, there are still occurrences that result in medical malpractice suits. There are three main complaints which spark most suits brought to an anesthesiologist; death, adverse reaction and a phenomenon called anesthesia awareness where the anesthesia that temporarily paralyzes a patient works but the pain killing medicine doesn’t.
Medical Malpractice Insurance & Risk Management Relation
While some events are unavoidable, other risks can be buffered. For example, if a patient has never been administered anesthesia before, there is no history to review that may provide clues on how they will react to certain medications. On the other hand a patient who does have a history to review can give a clearer picture on any potential negative reactions and risks. Additionally, with the advent of Electronic Medical Records or EMR, anesthesiologists have another important tool to use in their practice to ensure the safety of the patients they work with and also lower the risk of their medical malpractice insurance company.
Anesthesiologists Go Through Significant Training
An anesthesiologists successful completion of extensive training helps to reduce the risk of medical malpractice insurance claims against them and/or their practice. This training also allows anesthesiologists to produce the highest quality of patient care available. After their four years of medical school, doctors go through a one year internship at a hospital. After completing their internship, doctors go through their residency. Physicians who are interested in becoming an anesthesiologist, will go through an anesthesiology residency. These residencies last three years. Some physicians will stay a fourth year and act as the chief resident for the hospital. Physicians are covered by the hospital that they are completing their residency at for their medical malpractice insurance. A very closely related specialty to anesthesiology is pain management. Many anesthesiologists go on to complete a one year fellowship in pain management to enhance their skills in this specialty.
Anesthesiologists are also responsible for supervising certified nurse anesthetists or more commonly known as CRNA’s. Nearly all hospitals and surgery centers employ CRNA’s. CRNA’s work in conjunction with the anesthesiologist to deliver medical care. CRNA’s do not have nearly as much medical training as an anesthesiologist, which is why they are required to have a supervising physician at all times.
Anesthesiologists Medical Malpractice Insurance Risk Has Decreased
This field of medicine has advanced significantly helping lower the risk of medical malpractice claims. Anesthesiologists are hopeful that electronic medical records will continue to lower the risk as important medical information about their patients is now more readily available in a digital format. In fact, many medical malpractice insurance companies will now give a discount off doctor’s medical malpractice insurance, if they have an electronic medical records system in place.
At the end of the day there is always a risk when practicing anesthesiology, no matter how careful and caring a doctor is with his patients. The best actions an anesthesiologist can take to combat his exposure is to align himself with a financially strong medical malpractice insurance company, utilize risk management courses to reduce his premiums with that company and familiarize himself with EMR.