The use of Anaesthesia is safer than it has ever been and regarded as one of the safest medical interventions. However, major complications can still occur, including the risk of dying. Statistically, the chance of mortality during an operation depends on the patient’s age and health. Complications are more prevalent in the very young and elderly, while levels of fitness are adversely affected by obesity and smoking.
However, for a fit patient under 60 years of age, the chances of dying due to an anaesthetic complication is approximately 1 in 1,000,000. Mortality statistics for those undergoing anaesthesia over the age of 60 can be higher depending on co-existing conditions.
Other very rare occurrences from anaesthetic complications include: heart attack, stroke, major nerve damage, brain dysfunction, organ failure, allergic reaction and reawakening during a procedure.
Patients are given information prior to surgery by the anaesthetist when the patient is required to either interview, fill in a questionnaire, or attend a pre-admission clinic.
As part of the NZSA’s commitment to Informed Consent, the Society produces an information leaflet, Your Anaesthetic, that may be given to patients by the hospital before a medical procedure about the risks associated with anaesthetics.
Anaesthetists are highly qualified specialist doctors who administer several different types of anaesthetic techniques depending on the patient and surgical needs, from a general anaesthetic where the patient is put into a state of unconsciousness throughout an operation, to a local anaesthetic which causes numbness only at the site of surgery.
Additional practices include administering regional anaesthesia, by utilising local anaesthesia to block major nerve pathways to a region of the body where the surgery is to take place and monitored sedation, a practice of utilising drugs to keep a patient comfortable and drowsy yet conscious enough to answer questions if need be.
Where else might you find your anaesthetist?
Besides the operating theatre, anaesthetists’ skills are widely used in patient care for radiology or radiotherapy procedures, post-operative pain relief and for acute or chronic pain management. Anaesthetists perform in operating theatres, intensive care units, accident and emergency departments, obstetric units, at dentists, and even in psychiatry units. They are also widely involved in teaching, training undergraduate medical students, and other healthcare workers including nurses, paramedics and other postgraduate professionals.
Anaesthetists train for six years to obtain their medical degree and a further five to seven years working in a hospital, gaining experience and completing postgraduate exams before they qualify as a specialist anaesthetist. A specialist anaesthetist is one of the most highly trained doctors in a hospital.