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Anesthesiologists are doctors who administer sedation and anesthesia to prevent pain and discomfort in patients undergoing invasive medical procedures.
Anesthesia Errors Are Common In Maryland
Over 21 million patients receive anesthesia each year. Anesthesiologists work with patients before, during, and after invasive medical procedures and closely monitor their patient’s vital signs.
Currently, there are about 30,000 anesthesiologists working in the United States.
Medical Negligence and Anesthesiologists
Anesthesiologists have the important job of keeping the patient alive during medical procedures the patient would usually not be able to handle without sedation. When mistakes are made, the results range from mild nausea to waking up during surgery, to death.
Most mistakes in anesthesia administration result in minor complications like pain after the procedure or nausea and vomiting in reaction to the anesthesia. As many as 40% of patients experience some minor complications from anesthesia.
The more serious complications involve waking up during surgery or overdosing on anesthesia causing serious complications or even death. These complications are rare, only 0.2% or two out of every thousand patients wake up during surgery. Fewer patients experience more serious complications, but these complications can include nerve damage, epidural abscess, blood clots, heart attacks, brain damage from lack of oxygen, and death.
Other common mistakes that can be made by anesthesiologists include:
- Failing to instruct the patient about surgery preparations including not eating or drinking for a certain amount of time
- Failing to understand the patient’s medical history and current medical chart before administering anesthesia (including any allergies)
- Failing to monitor the patient during surgery
- Delayed delivery of anesthesia
- Administering the wrong anesthesia drug
- Failing to monitor the oxygen level in the patient’s blood
- Failing to properly monitor the patient’s blood pressure
- Failing to recognize developing complications
- Negligent intubation—general anesthesia requires the patient to be intubated (have an object inserted into the throat) to keep their airways open during the procedure
- Failing to prevent nerve damage by not moving the patient into positions that relieve pressure
Anesthesia awareness occurs when patients under general anesthesia become aware of the surgical procedure. General anesthesia both makes the patient unconscious and paralyzes the patient with neuromuscular block agents so doctors can be sure there will be no movement during the procedure.
When patients are administered too little amounts of general anesthesia, they can become aware of the procedure without being able to communicate with the surgical team. The Joint Commission estimates that anesthesia awareness occurs between 20,000 to 40,000 times each year. Patients can experience severe post-traumatic stress disorder from these experiences.
One medical study found that there are about 300 anesthesia-related deaths each year. The most common causes of these deaths were anesthesia overdose and adverse reactions to anesthesia.
Educational Requirements For Anesthesiologists
To become an anesthesiologist, students need to graduate medical school and earn either a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or a Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.). After completing medical school, doctors who want to become anesthesiologists will be required to complete a one-year internship in general medicine/ surgery, followed by a three-year residency training program focused on anesthesiology.
Licensing Requirements For Anesthesiologists In Maryland
Doctors are required to become licensed in medicine to be able to practice medicine in any state. The requirements vary by state. A state license allows a doctor to practice any type of medicine in the state and does not show qualifications in any one area of medicine.
Many anesthesiology residents will also complete a one or two-year fellowship in a subspecialty of anesthesiology such as critical care, pediatric anesthesiology, or obstetrics.
Once anesthesiologists have completed residency programs and have earned a state license, they can choose to become board certified by the American Board of Anesthesiology. Board certification is an optional but important way for anesthesiologists to demonstrate expertise and knowledge in their field. Anesthesiologists will need to maintain board certification through self-assessments, continuing education credits, and re-examinations.
Where Anesthesiologists Work
Anesthesiologists work in a variety of settings. Traditionally, they work out of hospitals and other medical centers, but they can also work in dental offices, outpatient surgical centers, labor and delivery units, critical and intensive care units, or in education or research.
See our list of local Maryland medical malpractice resources for information about specific hospitals where anesthesia errors are likely to occur.
How Anesthesiologists Help People
Anesthesiologists care for patients before, during, and after major medical procedures. They administer sedation to patients, usually anesthesia, to put the patient in a state of unconsciousness, or apply regional anesthetics to numb specific, targeted parts of the body. Anesthesiologists work as part of a team providing the medical care to the patient. They have to communicate with other members of the patient’s care team about the general health and pain levels of the patient.
Before the medical procedure, anesthesiologists will meet with patients to evaluate their health history, their current state of health, and to discuss the upcoming surgical procedure. The anesthesiologist will make a judgment about which type of anesthesia to use and will decide on dosage amounts for the patient. To make this judgment, the anesthesiologist may need to order diagnostic tests like blood samples.
The three major types of anesthesia administered during surgery are general, regional, and local. Local anesthesia targets specific body parts like one hand and is administered through an injection. Regional anesthesia numbs a larger area of the body and is also administered by an injection. General anesthesia makes the patient unconscious for the entirety of the medical procedure, and can be administered as a gas or vapor through a mask or breathing tube, or as a liquid through an IV.
During the medical procedure, the anesthesiologist coordinates the administration of anesthetics with the surgeons and other medical professionals. After the procedure, the anesthesiologist will decide when the patient is stable enough to move wards or to be sent home, and will follow-up with the patient about his or her level of pain and discomfort.
The anesthesiologist is responsible for making sure that all anesthesia equipment is functioning properly at the time of a medical procedure.
The average salary of an anesthesiologist is $275,743.
Experienced Medical Malpractice Attorneys
Anesthesia errors are preventable, but can cause severe harm to patients when they occur. If you or a loved one has suffered and injury from anesthesia administered in Maryland, you will need an experienced medical malpractice attorney who can sort out the complexities of your case, and make sure you receive the financial recovery you are entitled to receive. Call us at (800) 529-6162 or schedule a consultation online to discover how we can help you with your anesthesia malpractice case.