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.)