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Emotional Trauma and Drug Use Among Anesthesiologists

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According to the results of a new survey, the patient undergoing an operation is not the only one who may suffer irreparable harm when a serious medical event occurs during surgery.

Published in the March 2012 issue of Anesthesia & Analgesia, the report indicates that approximately 20 percent of anesthesiologists surveyed never completely recovered from a serious event involving a patient. While many were eventually able to move past the serious event, nearly 90 percent indicated reported that it was a lengthy period of time before they recovered emotionally.

Over 70 percent of anesthesiologists surveyed said catastrophic incidents involving patients caused them to experience guilt, anxiety or personal responsibility for the patient’s injury or death. Problematically, when an anesthesiologist isn’t able to heal or recover from these emotions, it may cause a decline in the quality of care provided to subsequent patients. With 84 percent of surveyed anesthesiologists stating that they have been involved in serious or fatal incidents — an average of 4.4 such events over the course of a career — vast numbers of patients may have suffered harm at the hands of emotionally impaired anesthesiologists.

Shockingly, according to Medical News Today, most anesthesiologists are not given time off to process the serious events, let alone provided with a formal debriefing.

Drug Addiction

Emotional hardship from exposure to serious medical events is bad enough. Combine this stress, grief and anxiety with easy access to powerful medical drugs, and it’s little wonder that anesthesiologist drug addiction is another prevalent threat to patients.

According to a 2005 study, the drugs most commonly abused by anesthesiologists are opioids. Another 2005 study found that between 1991 and 2001, 80 percent of residency programs in the United States had issues with impaired residents; 19 percent had at least one drug-related fatality.

A 2002 study found that one percent of anesthesiology faculty members had experienced drug abuse, as did 1.6 percent of residents. However, these numbers only reflect known cases of drug abuse — there could be many more unknown cases.

There are not studies that explicitly link opioid drug use with exposure to catastrophic events involving patients. However, it is not farfetched to assume that some anesthesiologists whose patients experience a serious event or die might turn to opioids to deal with emotional trauma. Such drug use could clearly threaten the safety of future patients through anesthesia errors.

If you or a loved one has been impacted by a negligent anesthesiologist or another medical professional, speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney about your rights.