Life After Death: The Aftermath of Perioperative Catastrophes

Anesth Analg. 2008 Aug;107(2):591-600.

Most anesthesiologists will experience the perioperative death of a patient or a major perioperative catastrophe in the course of their careers. Anesthesia training, however, does not prepare individuals to handle the aftermath of such a stressful event. Multiple surveys have shown that the death of a patient has a major emotional impact on up to 75% of health care providers involved, regardless of whether the death was expected or whether the patient was well known to the practitioner. Psychological recovery often takes weeks or months and is hampered by lack of emotional and professional support. Data indicate that the majority of anesthesiologists would prefer a more formal support structure, including the option to take time off from clinical work. Although a formal assessment of professional functioning after a perioperative catastrophe has not been done, the Association of Anaesthetists of Great Britain and Ireland instituted guidelines recommending support at multiple levels, and the “Adverse Event Protocol” available on the Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation website provides a sug- gested series of steps to minimize patient injury and identify the cause of an adverse anesthesia event after it occurs. The negative consequences of failure to cope well after these events are significant to individuals and health care systems alike. Further study into the short-term and long-term impact of perioperative catastrophes on providers and health systems is needed. Additionally, education on how to handle the aftermath of perioperative catastrophes and formal support structures should be provided to practitioners at all levels of training.

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