An informed patient is a safer patient

american society of anesthesiologistsA guest column by the American Society of Anesthesiologists, exclusive to

The health care landscape is changing, and now more than ever we as physicians should be focused on quality of care and ensuring the safety of our patients. Anesthesiology was the first medical specialty to champion patient safety as a specific focus. Over the past century, physician anesthesiologists have advanced patient safety through innovative research, science and technology advancements. In 1999, the Institute of Medicine report “To Err is Human” singled out the medical specialty of anesthesiology for its significant improvements in patient safety.

In 1984, the American Society of Anesthesiologists® (ASA®) introduced the Committee on Patient Safety and Education, through which the Society provides education, training, applications of current and developing technologies and the acquisition of new knowledge about the causes and prevention of medical mistakes. That same year, the Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation (APSF) was founded to improve the safety of patients during anesthesia care by encouraging and conducting safety research and education, programs and campaigns and the exchange of information on a national and international basis. It goes without saying that patient education is imperative to the missions of APSF and ASA.

In light of Patient Safety Awareness Week, a campaign led by the National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF), organizations and health care personnel across the country are promoting the importance of patient safety and how to keep patients free from harm. According to NPSF, informed patients are safer patients, and that begins with critical conversations physicians must have with their patients.

While anesthesia is safer than ever before, every patient scheduled for a procedure or surgery must have a serious conversation with their physician anesthesiologist about their anesthesia care plan. Advances in the science and research of anesthesiology have decreased the dangers of surgery and anesthesia substantially, but patients should be made aware of any risks associated with their procedure. Each of the more than 100 million operations and procedures performed on Americans every year involves the administration of anesthesia – but many people overlook its seriousness. Even “minor procedures” are not risk-free.

Before undergoing surgery or a procedure, patients should visit with their physician anesthesiologist during their pre-anesthesia visit. During this interview, the physician anesthesiologist may ask questions that cover the following:

  • general health, including any recent changes
  • allergies to medications or other items
  • chronic medical problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, acid reflux and sleep apnea
  • recent hospital admissions, including surgery or procedures
  • previous experiences with anesthesia, especially any problems

At the conclusion of the pre-anesthesia visit, patients should:

  • have clear instructions on when to stop eating and drinking before surgery
  • know what medications should or should not be taken on the day of surgery
  • know what type of anesthesia will be given

An informed patient is a safer patient. All physicians should ensure that their patients are educated about their particular procedure and comfortable with the team providing their care.

Fred E. Shapiro is chair, ASA Committee on Patient Safety and Education.

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