When preparing for surgery, many patients think of the anesthesiologist as the "physician behind the mask" who sends them into sleep before the procedure and wakes them when it's over. What they may not realize is how much the anesthesiologist does between those two points.
Anesthesiologists serve a central role in the operating room, making decisions to protect and regulate your critical life functions. They typically are the first to diagnose and treat any medical problems that may arise during surgery or the recovery period.
Anesthesia Fast Facts
Anesthesiology is the practice of medicine dedicated to the relief of pain and total care of the surgical patient before, during and after surgery.
Complications from anesthesia have declined dramatically over the last 50 years. Since the 1970s, the number of anesthesiologists has more than doubled and at the same time patient outcomes have improved. While perioperative deaths attributed to anesthesia were approximately 1 in 1,500 some fifty years ago, today that number has improved nearly ten fold; that's a dramatic increase in patient safety despite older and sicker patients being treated in operating rooms nationwide. At present, the chances of a healthy patient suffering an intraoperative death attributable to anesthesia is less than 1 in 200,000 when an anesthesiologist is involved in patient care.
As physicians, anesthesiologists are responsible for administering anesthesia to relieve pain and for managing vital life functions during surgery. After surgery, they maintain the patient in a comfortable state during the recovery, and are involved in the provision of critical care medicine in the intensive care unit. Anesthesiologists' responsibilities to patients include: Preanesthetic evaluation and treatment; Medical management of patients and their anesthetic procedures; Postanesthetic evaluation and treatment; On-site medical direction of any non-physician who assists in the technical aspects of anesthesia care to the patient.
The role of the anesthesiologist in the operating room is to: provide continual medical assessment of the patient; monitor and control the patient's vital life functions -- heart rate and rhythm, breathing, blood pressure, body temperature and body fluid balance; and control the patient's pain and level of unconsciousness to make conditions ideal for a safe and successful surgery.
There are three places where anesthesia is administered for surgery: a hospital or medical center, an ambulatory surgical center or a doctor's office.