ASA: Need anesthesiology providers? Consider anesthesiologist assistants

A guest column by the American Society of Anesthesiologists, exclusive to KevinMD.com.

On March 28, 2012, Governor Scott Walker signed into law SB383, a bill to license Anesthesiologist Assistants (AA) in Wisconsin.  The Wisconsin Academy of Anesthesiologist Assistants (WAAA), the Wisconsin Society of Anesthesiologists (WSA), the Wisconsin Medical Society, numerous other medical specialty societies, the Medical Examining Board, and six major hospital systems supported the bill.  Since 2001, seven states have opted to license AAs in order to meet the growing demand for anesthesia services.

AAs practice either under physician delegation of duties in accordance with the respective medical practice act or as enabled by practitioner specific statutory licensure.  In all situations, AAs provide care as medically directed by an anesthesiologist.  AAs are credentialed by a facility in the same manner as other midlevel providers and function equivalently to nurse anesthetists in the Anesthesia Care Team model.

As a practicing anesthesiologist in Wisconsin, I can tell you that this bill will benefit our patients in a number of ways:

Access to anesthesia services. The national shortage of Anesthesiologists and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists has increased in recent years due to a) the escalating number of healthcare procedures requiring anesthesia b) the increased requirement for surgical procedures in the elderly population, the fastest growing segment of our population.  This legislation would address the growing need for anesthesia services in Wisconsin.  Similarly to Physician Assistants, AAs would fill the need for more midlevel providers in anesthesia services, particularly in rural areas where anesthesiologists are in short supply.

Tranparency.  The bill creates a Council on Anesthesiologist Assistants under the auspices of the Medical Examining Board, similar to Physician Assistants and Respiratory Therapists.  The Council will increase transparency by defining AA scope of practice in state law.

Ensuring quality.  Hospital credentialing committees and insurance carriers increasingly are looking for assurances that anesthesia providers are competent.  Licensing is one way of accomplishing that goal.

Addressing manpower needs. Though AAs have worked in Wisconsin under delegatory authority since 1980, licensure over time would make Wisconsin a more attractive place for AAs to live, work and pay taxes.  Experience from other states has shown that licensure leads to an increase in the number of practicing AAs in the state

For further information about Anesthesiologist Assistants’ education, qualifications, and practice, visit the American Academy of Anesthesiologist Assistants and the American Society of Anesthesiologists.

James R. Mesrobian is Alternate Director (Wisconsin), American Society of Anesthesiologists.

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