There has been a general trend toward giving advanced practice nurses, like certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), increased independent responsibility both in Texas and nationwide. In my view, this is more related to cost savings than patient safety.
Traditionally, this complex and risky field of medicine has been handled by physicians with advanced training, called anesthesiologists.
These days, I would venture to say that in most Texas hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers, nurse anesthetists provide the majority of the operating room anesthesia care. This includes the two most dangerous parts of general anesthesia care, induction (putting the patient under) and emergence (bringing the patient back out of anesthesia), as well as inserting the breathing tube (intubation) and removing it (extubation).
In my experience, hospitals and surgery centers use physician anesthesiologists to meet with patients before they are taken to the operating room. The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) Guidelines for the Ethical Practice of Anesthesiology provide that: “If responsibility for patients’ care is to be shared with other physicians or nonphysician anesthesia providers, this arrangement should be explained to the patient.”
After listening to the many medical malpractice clients I have represented, I believe that most anesthesiologists rarely, if ever, explain to patients that it will be a nurse, not a physician, handling their anesthesia care in the operating room.
If you’re facing a surgical procedure that will require general or regional anesthesia, ask the anesthesiologist how your care will be managed. If you’re generally comfortable with having a CRNA nurse handle your anesthesia care, then I suggest asking to meet with the CRNA before being taken in the operating room. Ask about the nurse anesthetist’s training and experience. What you learn might surprise you.
I’m working on a wrongful death medical malpractice case now where a patient died because of respiratory and cardiac complications related to anesthesia. A CRNA nurse less than a year out of training was handling the anesthesia care when things went south and the anesthesiologist was not present.
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured because of poor anesthesia care, a top-rated Houston, Texas medical malpractice attorney can help you evaluate your potential case.