New Study Finds Older Anesthesiologists May Pose Risk to Patients

Sep 28, 2014 - Articles - by Dodson & Hooks, APLC

A new study published in the journal Anesthesiology looked at the litigation and patient injury rates for anesthesiologists 65 years old and older. The researchers found that older anesthesiologists experience a greater rate of medical malpractice litigation and a higher rate of severe patient injury than their younger counterparts.

The study is the first to look at this issue. Anesthesiologists between the ages of 51 and 65 have a litigation rate ratio of 1.15 and a patient disability rate ratio of 1.31. Anesthesiologists 65 or older, however, have a litigation rate ratio of 1.5 and a disability rate ratio of 1.94. An older anesthesiologist is one and a half times more likely to have litigation brought against them than their younger colleagues.

Researchers called the rise in litigation “modest but significant,” and thus it should be taken seriously. One explanation the researchers proposed for the higher rates of litigation and patient injuries is that older anesthesiologists tend to work less than their younger contemporaries, which lowers their rate of exposure to patients, increasing the ratios.

The researchers encourage older anesthesiologists to become more self-aware so they understand their work limits and can determine how to alter their work schedules and practices to improve patient care. Many older anesthesiologists may wish to reduce their work hours so they are rested and focused for their patients every day.

The researchers also caution the medical community to handle the results of the study with care since it is the first study of its kind on the topic and more research is needed to fully understand this issue.

General anesthesia can be a risky procedure no matter how old the anesthesiology is. Usually, complications arise in patients whose health is already compromised. Since general anesthesia slows reflexes, the muscles that control swallowing and coughing can be compromised and cause aspiration, which occurs when liquid is inhaled into the lungs or windpipe. Changes in blood pressure or heart rate may also occur and cause serious complications for patients. In rare cases, anesthesia can also cause heart attack or stroke. The mortality rate for general anesthesia is one in 200,000.

The new study on older anesthesiologists should start conversations among medical professionals about how to keep patients safe as the anesthesiology staff ages. Reducing work time may be one solution, but more studies are needed to determine the best way to reduce the litigation and injury rates of older anesthesiologists.

If you or a loved one were injured or killed during a medical procedure and believe the anesthesiologist may be to blame, please contact an experienced personal injury attorney.

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