Safe anesthesia care depends greatly on well-functioning teams of highly trained healthcare workers. The medical specialty centred around anesthesia is called anesthesiology, and medical doctors who practise it are termed anesthesiologists. Non-medical healthcare workers involved in anesthesia provision have varying titles and roles depending on the jurisdiction, and include nurse anesthetists, anesthetic nurses, anesthesiologist assistants, anaesthetic technicians, physicians’ assistants (anaesthesia), operating department practitioners and anesthesia technologists.
International standards for the safe practice of anesthesia, jointly endorsed by the World Health Organization and the World Federation of Societies of Anaesthesiologists, highly recommend that anesthesia should be provided, overseen or led by anesthesiologists, with the exception of minimal sedation or superficial procedures performed under local anesthesia.
A trained, vigilant anesthesia provider should continually care for the patient; where the provider is not an anesthesiologist, they should be locally directed and supervised by an anesthesiologist, and in countries or settings where this is not feasible, care should be led by the most qualified local individual within a regional or national anesthesiologist-led framework.
The same minimum standards for patient safety apply regardless of the provider, including continuous clinical and biometric monitoring of tissue oxygenation, perfusion and blood pressure; confirmation of correct placement of airway management devices by auscultation and carbon dioxide detection; use of the WHO Surgical Safety Checklist; and safe onward transfer of the patient’s care following the procedure.
Anesthesia is unique in that it is not a direct means of treatment; rather, it allows others to do things that may treat, diagnose, or cure an ailment which would otherwise be painful or complicated. The best anesthetic, therefore, is the one with the lowest risk to the patient that still achieves the endpoints required to complete the procedure. The first stage in anesthesia is the pre-operative risk assessment consisting of the medical history, physical examination and lab tests.
Diagnosing a person’s pre-operative physical status allows the clinician to minimize anesthetic risks. A well completed medical history will arrive at the correct diagnosis 56% of the time which increases to 73% with a physical examination. Lab tests help in diagnosis but only in 3% of cases, underscoring the need for a full history and physical examination prior to anesthetics. Incorrect pre-operative assessments or preparations are the root cause of 11% of all adverse anesthetic events.