Four out of five anesthesiologists have been involved in a “catastrophic event” involving death or injury to a patient during surgery, according to a new survey.
Experts said the poll, published in the journal Anesthesia & Analgesia, suggests such events are more common than previously believed and can have lasting effects on the patients and doctors involved.
The findings are based on a survey of 659 anesthesiologists regarding surgical catastrophes — events leading to unanticipated death or injury of a patient. About 84 percent said they had been involved in a surgical catastrophe — an average of 4.4 events over an entire career.
More than 70 percent of respondents said they experienced guilt, anxiety and reliving of the event. Most also said they felt personally responsible for the death or injury of the patient —even if they considered the event to be unpreventable.
About 90 percent said it took some time to recover emotionally from the event; 20 percent said they had never fully recovered; and 12 percent considered changing careers.
Two-thirds felt their ability to care for patients was compromised in the hours after the event. Yet nearly all had to carry on with their usual work schedule — only seven percent were given time off after the incident. Most respondents felt that some sort of formal debriefing session after the event would have been helpful.
Lead researcher Dr. Farnaz M. Gazoni, of the University of Virginia Health System in Charlotte, said the findings highlight the need for facilities to help health-care specialists cope – and take time off – after such an incident.
"A perioperative catastrophe may have a profound and lasting emotional impact on the anesthesiologist involved and may affect his or her ability to provide patient care in the aftermath of such events,” researchers wrote.