Wednesday, April 7, 2021

CRNA's Take Over Wisconsin Hospital

No anesthesiologists work here.

This is the type of news that makes anesthesiologists' blood run cold. Watertown Regional Medical Center in Wisconsin has removed all their anesthesiologists and replaced them with CRNA's. Wisconsin is one of the states that allows CRNA's to work without physician supervision. Therefore they can practice independently without even a surgeon supervising them. How does this cost cutting move by the hospital make the surgeons feel? In a decidedly indifferent comment, Adam Dachman, DO, a surgeon at Watertown, said, "It's a misconception that physicians are required to administer anesthesia." Ouch. Thanks for standing up for physician brotherhood.

This attitude is what I was afraid of when I said the anesthesia care team model will be the end of physician anesthesiologists. With the ACT model, anesthesiologists' roles become more like physician assistants. We're outside the operating rooms, dealing with preop history taking, starting IV's, making sure the patients are ready for their surgeries. Meanwhile, the CRNA's are the ones that are administering the anesthesia. They are the ones the surgeons will interact with 90% of the time. Our interactions with surgeons diminish to the point where they feel the CRNA's are doing all the work and no physician anesthesiologist is needed. This makes the hospital administration's decision to save money by firing all the anesthesiologists that much easier and less controversial with the staff.

The federal government is helping the demise of physician anesthesiologists by allowing the nurses to practice nationwide without supervision. Under the guise of increasing medical access during a pandemic, the CMS is letting CRNA's work independently so physician anesthesiologists can use their critical care skills to treat the maximum number of patients. This provision is supposed to sunset in June as the pandemic eases across the country. Not surprisingly, the AANA has something to say about that. They are talking with the nurse friendly Biden Administration about extending the opt out provision to the end of the year and possibly beyond. 

The coronavirus has been a seismic shift in how medicine is practiced. For anesthesiologists, it may be the final push out the OR doors that we have always feared. 

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