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HEALTH: Anesthesia is not like treating the sniffles

Letter by James A. Stangl, M.D., Seattle on May 29, 2012 at 4:39 pm with 2 Comments »
May 30, 2012 10:22 am

As a Tacoma anesthesiologist, I work closely with and understand the role and value of nurse practitioners. In his May 24 op-ed, “Why a Yale M.D. when a nurse practitioner will do?” Daniel Akst stated that some non-physicians are as able to deliver health care for routine needs as physicians. He fails to recognize that anesthesia care is far different than treating the sniffles.

Anesthesiology is a complex medical specialty. Physician anesthesiologists play a central role in the operating room and make decisions that protect and regulate their patients’ critical life functions. They also are typically the first to diagnose and treat medical problems that may arise during surgery or the recovery period. And anesthesiologists are increasingly called on to help with pain relief, sedation and resuscitation outside of the operating room.

While health care reform has many Americans rightly concerned about cost, anesthesia care costs the same, no matter who administers it. Patients prefer physician anesthesiologists over nurse anesthetists, and for good reason. The education and training differences are huge. I assume that Akst would also choose an anesthesiologist to help care for a loved one who needed surgery.

(Stangl, a Seattle physician, is president of the Washington State Society of Anesthesiologists.)

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  1. armycrna says:

    As a Board certified Family Nurse Practitioner and Nurse Anesthetist; I feel obligated to respond to the comments of Dr Stangl. In study after study, there is compelling evidence to support that mid-level practitioners provide value based, safe, professional medical services to millions of Americans every day. There is an enormous difference in cost for all Anesthesiologist care; don’t be fooled, MDA’s make 2-3 times the salary for similar service.
    I work in a CRNA only practice providing a service that an anesthesiologist would never provide due to lower remuneration and a less-than-stellar location. As chief of Anesthesia services while serving in Afghanistan, I oversaw an 8 member Anesthesia team consisting of 4 Anesthesiologists and 4 CRNA’s; I never had a soldier tell me, boy I’m glad to have an Anesthesiologist providing anesthesia to me”; in fact, most patients, value the professional anesthesia provided by Nurse Anesthetists as equivelant and relevant in todays cost-conscious health care arena.

  2. The training is not equivalent. Pure and simple – anesthesiologists’ training is more extensive, more in-depth, and the training is longer. And, the notion that the cost is less by using CRNA’s is questionable. Adding in overtime, the additional salary for an after-hours shift, and the possibility of higher malpractice premiums may make the cost/anesthetic not that much different. Simply comparing salaries is not the best indication of cost differences.

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