A 2012 forecast for anesthesiology

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

2012 will be an important year for the health care profession. With a growing aging population, physicians will be needed more than ever to care for patients. In particular, the number of patients who undergo surgical procedures will increase, along with the demand for physicians such as anesthesiologists.

This demand raises an important issue. A 2010 study by the RAND Corporation found a shortage of 3,800 anesthesiologists and 1,282 nurse anesthetists. If current trends continue, a dramatic shortage of anesthesiologists and a significant surplus of nurse anesthetists are projected by 2020.

The projected shortage of anesthesiologists suggests that the country will soon face a gap in anesthesiology services. It is essential that physicians continue to supervise the administration of anesthesia as they have the specialized medical training to make split-second decisions, monitor patients’ vital signs and manage pain.

In 2012, the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) will focus on providing a model of practice for anesthesiologists that is best for patients’ safety and needs. Anesthesiologists treat a broad base of patients and conditions and have knowledge in a variety of areas that can be used both in and out of the operating room. These skills position anesthesiologists as the physicians who can coordinate care during the entire surgical process from admission to discharge.

In addition, the ongoing drug shortages will continue to impact anesthesiologists. According to an ASA survey last year, more than 90 percent of physician respondents had experienced at least one anesthetic drug shortage. Also in 2011, the University of Utah Drug Information Service reported a new record-high of 267 drug shortages. It is anticipated that the number of shortages will only grow in 2012.

It is essential that all parties, including manufacturers, distributors, pharmacists and others, come together to solve this problem to reduce the negative impact shortages have on patients. ASA will continue its support for legislative and executive efforts aimed at stifling the drug shortages pandemic.

Challenging times provide great opportunities. ASA looks forward to addressing these issues over the next year to help advance the quality of care patients receive.

Jerry A. Cohen is President of the American Society of Anesthesiologists.

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