Showing posts with label What do anesthesiologists do. Show all posts
Showing posts with label What do anesthesiologists do. Show all posts

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Are Anesthesiologists Just Glorified Nurses?

In a provocative op-ed in Anesthesiology News (free membership required), Dr. Karen Sibert, past president of the California Society of Anesthesiologists, dared to ask if anesthesiologists are truly practicing like physicians, or merely doing nurses' work. Full disclosure: I know Dr. Sibert personally and have worked with her in the past.

She asks why are anesthesiologists responsible for drawing up drugs? Why are anesthesiologists the ones to hang medications on IV pumps? Why are anesthesiologists charting IV fluids and urine outputs? Do you ever see internists grab a syringe and check out drugs from a Pyxis to give to a patient? Of course not. They write an order and the pharmacist and nurse carries it out. Oncologists don't hang drugs themselves. They give orders to a nurse who then loads the IV pump to give to the patient. When a surgeon asks for preincision antibiotics, who does he give the orders to? That's right. It's the anesthesiologist who mixes it up and administers it to the patient. How did anesthesiologists' duties become so mundane and nursing oriented?

Dr. Sibert goes goes into a little bit of history of anesthesiology to explain the current conundrum. In the early 1900's, most surgeons would use a nurse to administer sedation in the operating room. The same nurse might then follow the surgeon to the office later in the day for office duties. There was no such thing as an anesthesiologist involved. Then along came Ralph Waters, MD. 

Dr. Waters was one of the pioneers of anesthesiology, a lion of the specialty. He treated anesthesiology as a true science, with rigorous research and observations. He began the first anesthesiology residency in the United States, at the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1927. 

But unfortunately the practice of providing anesthesia had by then been strongly established as a nursing duty supervised by a surgeon. It took decades of work before anesthesiology was officially recognized as a physician specialty and fully independent of a surgeon's purview. 

Dr. Sibert noted the difference between the European model of giving anesthesia versus the American one. Europeans require two professionals present during critical phases of the case, either an anesthesiologist and an assistant or an anesthesiologist and a nurse. The US does not have this requirement so a CRNA can do the job all by themselves without any supervision of an anesthesiologists.

European anesthesiologists are also much more involved in the patient care throughout their hospitalization, not just in the operating room. Patients are evaluated by anesthesiologists preop. They are then followed through the operating room, possible ICU stay, postop recovery, pain management, and even after discharge. The anesthesiologists act as a hospitalist or internist for the patient. This is the aim of the Perioperative Surgical Home that was so in vogue a few years ago. But most American anesthesiologists would rather quit than to have to follow their patients that thoroughly. ("If I wanted to be a hospitalist, I would have gone into medicine and become a hospitalist!")

Those are the kinds of responsibilities that medical students and residents are trained to excel. We're experts at evaluating the big picture to determine whether a patient can safely undergo anesthesia and to take care of them perioperatively. Why do so many anesthesiologists not want to broaden the scope of their practice and are satisfied with drawing up syringes of propofol and just get through the day? 

Because it's easy, that's why. It takes hard work to really think about how to navigate a patient through preoperative preparations, surgery, and postop recovery. It's so much easier and more lucrative to just sit in the operating room and push syringes of drugs while a computer automatically charts all the vital signs. We're being paid to do nurses work while making a doctors salary

Is it any wonder that surgeons look on with disdain when they peer over the ether screen and see anesthesiologists staring at their cellphones? Do you think surgeons care whether the person on the other side of the screen is a physician anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist as long as somebody is paying attention to their patients? It's only a matter of time before the insurance companies and hospital administrators realize this too and make their own adjustments.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Nimbex Is Dead. Long Live Sugammadex

I've been a lifelong fan of cisatracurium (Nimbex). It has been my neuromuscular blocker of choice ever since residency. Why do I love it so much? Let me count the ways.

I've found that Nimbex is very predictable in its metabolism. I've been burned badly before when I used another agent like rocuronium on a patient with renal insufficiency and the patient had incomplete reversal at the end of the case that necessitated reintubation. Not good for the patient or your reputation as an anesthesiologist.

Thanks to its Hoffman elimination, I don't have to worry about a patient's kidney or liver function. The drug just metabolizes at a very steady and predictable manner. This is particularly important when a patient may have an unknown issue with their renal or hepatic functions and suddenly you're wondering why the patient isn't waking up. Nimbex is also very easy to reverse. Neostigmine easily takes care of the drug and the patient emerges quickly. 

Sure you can't use Nimbex for rapid sequence induction but that's okay. Most cases don't require RSI anyway. Due to Nimbex's property of predictable reversal, I've stuck with it long after many of my colleagues switched to roc. But now that's all changed thanks to the miracle of sugammadex.

Sugammadex (Bridion) is a drug invented specifically to reverse the paralysis induced by rocuronium. But it also works with other aminosteroid compounds like vecuronium. I feel it has revolutionized NMB reversal the way propofol transformed the induction of anesthesia.

First of all, Bridion works very fast. I'm always amazed by how quickly a patient starts moving after it is given, even if there is still a fair amount of inhalational agents on board.

Rocuronium no longer needs to be carefully titrated in order for it to be reversible at the end of the case. This is especially relevant in procedures that finish rapidly like in ENT. Those cases always present the conundrum of the need for deep paralysis followed by a quick emergence. There's no greater predicament for the anesthesiologist than staring down at a patient with zero muscle twitches and an impatient surgeon wanting to get his next case started ASAP. Prior to sugammadex there was no way to reverse a deeply paralyzed patient effectively.

One can give roc to anybody with sugammadex. Before, I was always leery of using Bridion in dialysis patients because there was always a small chance that the reversal agent would wear off before the body has cleared the NMB. I have yet to see that happen. It's just as easy to wake up a patient with renal failure as a patient with normal kidney functions.

With all these advantages, rocuronium and sugammadex have become the combo of choice in our department. Nimbex use has practically disappeared. Bridion is in such high demand that our pharmacy is complaining about the high cost of the drug. Whereas one 200 mg vial of sugammadex costs about $100, one vial of neostigmine costs $10, and that can be used with multiple patients. Our sugammadex costs are now disrupting our pharmacy's budget because people are using it so often. In addition, the anesthesiologists frequently use more than one vial per patient as some are now becoming too lazy to titrate their NMBs properly.

Are there costs that are saved because we use so much sugammadex? One has to consider the cost benefit analysis for a weak patient in PACU that requires reintubation. What are the costs of prolonged OR use because the patient took a longer time than anticipated to wake up? What is the cost of the psychological trauma in a patient who is gasping for breath because he is too weak to breathe? Or the patient who is too weak to protect his own airway when extubated too early and she aspirates, requiring hospitalization for pneumonia? All these should be taken into consideration when calculating the cost of using sugammadex.

Are there downsides to sugammadex? I've already mentioned the exorbitant price of the drug. That hopefully will come down in a few years when the drug goes off patent and generics flood the market.

Worse than that though is that I think sugammadex makes anesthesiologists lazy and they lose an essential skill. It's a real art to titrate paralytic agents properly so it can be reversed quickly at the end of a case. It's not something that can be taught in a book since each patient is unique in their ability to metabolize NMBs and every surgical case is different. With sugammadex, it doesn't matter at all. This is particularly detrimental to the anesthesia residents. It is just as easy to wake up a patient with zero twitches as one with four twitches. There is no learning there. Just give more sugammadex! But they didn't learn anything about the art of controlling anesthesia.

This is all part of the long standing trend of making anesthesia ever faster and easier to use. From halothane to desflurane. Pentathol to propofol. Pancuronium to rocuronium. If we're not careful, anesthesia could become too easy to administer. There are plenty of people who would love to get anesthesiologists out of their procedure rooms. From gastroenterologists to cardiologists, having one less physician in the room would be a dream come true. If anybody ever makes reversal agent for propofol, anesthesiologists would soon be unemployed.

Friday, January 16, 2015

A Desperate Cry For Attention--Physician Anesthesiologists Week

Which person is the anesthesiologist? You can't tell either?
I've been trying to avoid bringing this up because I think the concept is so insipid. But the ASA has been bombarding its members with daily emails to spread the word for their latest idea on promoting the virtues of anesthesiologists, the first annual Physician Anesthesiologists Week. Therefore as a dutiful member of the society I am going to publicize this event even though I think it reflects badly on anesthesiologists as a whole.

Why do I think this is a bad idea? It has all the hallmarks of a desperate cry for attention from an organization with an inferiority complex. It says, "Look at me! I'm relevant! I am a REAL doctor!" Is that the message we want to be sending out? Have anesthesiologists become so insignificant and replaceable that we need to promote ourselves as a brand, like laundry detergent? Perhaps.

When our group's leadership asked our hospital to place a Physician Anesthesiologists Week banner as a screen saver on all the computers in the place, the response we received was less than enthusiastic, "As a rule, we don't use our communications channels/publications to promote organizational weeks or months. For one thing, there are far too many of those. More importantly, our strategic purpose is to promote the work under way at [the hospital] for our patients. So I'm afraid that we cannot assist with promotion of the Physician Anesthesiologists Week."

In other words, they use their screen saver to emphasize events like OR Nurses Week or Radiology Tech Week, but they don't see the need to promote anesthesiologists. And I don't blame them. You don't see the surgeons or internists clamoring for a Physician Surgeon Week or Physician Internist Week. For one thing, the title is redundant. Everybody knows surgeons and internists are physicians. They don't need to repeat it before their profession. Unfortunately the ASA thinks anesthesiologists have become so anonymous that we can't afford to do that, "Hey people, I'm a doctor too!"

Then, there's the awkwardness of celebrating ourselves. We're supposed to be leaders in patient care yet this campaign gives off an image of desperation, like we don't really believe our own legitimacy. Surgeons know they are leaders in patient care and the patients know it too. There's no need to have a special week to celebrate their work. It's innate. You know how despots in totalitarian countries conduct parades to themselves to imply to their own people how powerful they are and we laugh at their insecurity? Yeah it's kind of like that.

To see how embarrassing and debasing this Physician Anesthesiologists Week is, guess who else wants recognition for their work? And it takes place almost immediately after ours. Coincidence?
I bet everybody here is a CRNA.

Friday, November 6, 2009

What do anesthesiologists do?

What do anesthesiologists do for three hours when the patient is asleep on the operating room table? Here is a funny video parodying anesthesiologists. Video probably came from the U.K. based on the singer's accent and the spelling "anaesthetists." It's funny because it's (half) true.