When Patients Die, Anesthesiologists Hurt
A new study says some providers never fully emotionally recover from catastrophic surgical mishaps.
Published: March 1, 2012
Most anesthesiologists have worked cases when patients are seriously injured or die and are racked with guilt and anxiety afterward, according to a study in the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia.
Of the more than 650 anesthesiologists the researchers surveyed, nearly 85% had been involved in a surgical catastrophe. Many of the respondents felt responsible for the event, even if it was unpreventable, notes the study.
Most anesthesiologists said it took time to recover from the event; 19% said they never full recovered. In fact, 12% of the respondents said they considered changing careers.
More than half of the anesthesiologists who were involved in cases that resulted in serious patient harm claimed their ability to provide adequate care was compromised for hours, but only 7% said they were given time off to recover.
The cascading effects of catastrophic surgical events can create additional victims, according to the authors of an accompanying editorial, Timothy Martin, MD, and Raymond Roy, MD, PhD. Anesthesiologists could be considered the second victim of surgery gone wrong, they say. If providers return to the OR before they're emotionally ready to do so, notes the editorial, the care of subsequent patients could be jeopardized, creating a third victim of the original unfortunate event.
Drs. Martin and Roy say anesthesiologists who've been involved in cases that go terribly wrong should be given time away from surgery, undergo mental health screenings and be subjected to ongoing observation to ensure they show no signs of psychological impairment.
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