ANESTHESIOLOGY is a field of medicine that provides anesthesia (pain control and sedation) to patients undergoing surgical procedures. The training of an anesthesiologist is complex, typically lasting four years or longer. An anesthesiologist is a physician who must complete a general medical internship followed by a three-year residency in anesthesiology. After that, many go on to subspecialize in areas such as Pain Management, Pediatric Anesthesiology, Cardiothoracic Anesthesiology, Obstetric Anesthesiology, or Critical Care Medicine.
General anesthesia is a term used to describe a type of anesthesia where a patient is fully unconscious for the duration of a surgical procedure. When anesthesiology physicians provide general anesthesia, a patient must also have airway protection via intubation or a laryngeal mask airway. Conscious sedation or deep sedation is a type of anesthesia utilized during brief procedures. Although patients undergoing sedative anesthesia require airway monitoring, they typically do not require aggressive airway management. For obstetrical, abdominal and thoracic procedures, anesthesiology physicians may place epidural (“spinal”) catheters to provide pain control. Anesthesiologists with fellowship training in Pain Management are certified to treat chronic pain. Approaches to the treatment of chronic pain include narcotics, injections, nerve ablations, and/or the implantation of specialized devices such as electronic stimulators and pain pumps. In modern healthcare, anesthesiologists may oversee Nurse Anesthetists, specially trained nurses who facilitate the delivery of anesthesia.
Medical malpractice litigation against anesthesiologists commonly arises from procedural complications such as failure to control an airway during intubation or damage to adjacent structures during the placement of an epidural catheter. Since anesthesiologists are primarily responsible for patient positioning during anesthesia, anesthesiologists may be held liable for injuries related to surgical positioning. Common injuries include compartment syndrome or damage to the sciatic nerve or brachial plexus. A growing area of medical malpractice litigation deals with improper supervision of Nurse Anesthetists, though statutory mandates vary on a state by state basis. Given the complexity of the issues in Anesthesiology, a top Anesthesiology physician expert witness is a key aspect of any medical malpractice case involving Anesthesiologists.