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California’s Anesthesiologist “Opt-Out” May Increase the Risk of Death and Injury for Surgical Patients

AnesthesiologistWhile most surgical patients go under anesthesia and wake up without complication, this is not always the case. In fact, around one in 20 patients suffer a fatality under general anesthesia, and approximately seven out of every million die while under full anesthesia. Even more concerning is that the rates, which have been increasing after decades of decline, are even higher for patients over the age of 65. The following explores some possible reasons for the increase in death and injury among surgical patients, and provides some important information for victims and their families.

Examining the Rise in Anesthesia-Induced Fatalities

Death and injury complications have always been a concern for patients receiving anesthesia. In the 1940s, some 640 out of every million patients experienced a fatal complication while under anesthesia. Safety regulations, training, and modern standards have brought us far from that number, but the drugs are still deadly. Indeed, the feeling of drifting into a coma-like unconsciousness is the last thing some patients will ever experience – and it is happening to more patients today than it did just a decade ago.

Some experts say that the recent increases are related to the overall declining health of Americans. Others believe it is due to the increasing number of surgeries being performed on the elderly. Still others suggest something almost insidious – that a recent shift in regulations is causing a sharp rise in patient deaths. That shift is one that not all states have made, but California has. It is the decision to “opt out” of federally recommended use of a physician anesthesiologist in the operating room.

The change for Californians happened back in 2009. Physician anesthesiologists were no longer required for surgery. A nurse anesthetist, who is certified to administer anesthesia but has far less training than a physician, could legally administer the powerful drugs and monitor patients without an overseeing doctor in the operating room. In short, he or she was permitted to fly solo on operations, so long as they adhered to all other regulations. Unfortunately, they may not always have the knowledge, skills, or experience to handle some of the critical situations that arise in the operating room. Some believe they may also be more prone to critical mistakes that could endanger patients.

When Anesthesia Results in Death or Injury

While patients are usually informed of the risks of anesthesia, few truly believe they will suffer serious injury or fatality from the surgery. Their families do not want to believe that something so devastating could happen either. So, if and when it does happen, those who have been left behind are often shocked and devastated. Some are so distraught that they never even consider that an error could have been the cause of their loved one’s death or injury.

At Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, LLP, we help victims of anesthesia negligence pursue the compensation that they deserve. Dedicated and compassionate, our San Jose medical negligence lawyers can help with your case. Schedule your consultation to learn more. Call (408) 289-1417 today.

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