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You choose the car you drive, the apartment you rent, the smart phone in your pocket, and the flavor of ice cream among 31 flavors at Baskin-Robbins. Most of you choose your family physician, your dermatologist, and your surgeon. But can you choose your anesthesiologist?
To answer the question, let’s look at how anesthesia providers are assigned for each day of surgery.
Who makes the decision as to which anesthesia provider is assigned to your case? The anesthesia service at every hospital or healthcare system will have a scheduler. This scheduler is an individual (usually an anesthesiologist) who surveys the list of the surgical cases one day ahead of time. There will be multiple operating rooms and multiple cases in each operating room. Each operating room is usually scheduled for six to ten hours of surgical cases. The workload could vary from one ten-hour case to eight shorter cases. The total number of operating rooms will vary from hospital to hospital. Typically each room is specialty-specific, that is, all the cases in each room are the same type of surgery. The scheduler will an assign appropriate anesthesia provider to each room, depending on the skills of the anesthesia provider and the type of surgery in that room.
There are multiple surgical specialties and multiple types of anesthetics. An important priority is to schedule an anesthesia provider who is skilled and comfortable with the type of surgery scheduled. An open-heart surgery will require a cardiac anesthesiologist. A neonate (newborn) will require a pediatric anesthesiologist. Most surgeries, e.g., orthopedic, gynecologic, plastic surgery, ear-nose-and-throat, abdominal, urologic, obstetric, and pediatric cases over age one, are bread-and-butter anesthetics that can be handled by any well-trained provider.
Each day certain anesthesiologists are “on-call.” When an anesthesiologist is on-call, he or she is the person called for emergency add-on surgeries that day and night. The on-call anesthesiologist is expected to work the longest day of cases, and the scheduler will usually assign that M.D. to an operating room with a long list of cases. If you have emergency surgery at 2 a.m., you will likely be cared for by the on-call anesthesiologist. A busy anesthesia service may have a first-call, a second-call, and a third-call anesthesiologist, a rank order that defines which anesthesia provider will do emergency cases if two or three come in simultaneously. A busy anesthesia service will have on-call physicians in multiple specialties, i.e., there will be separate on-call anesthesiologists for cardiac cases, trauma cases, transplant cases, and obstetric cases.
Different hospitals have different models of anesthesia services. In parts of the United States, especially the Midwest, the South, and the Southeast, the anesthesia care team is a common model. An anesthesia care team consists of both certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNA’s) and M.D. anesthesiologists. For complex cases such as cardiac cases or brain surgeries, an M.D. anesthesiologist may be assigned as the solitary anesthesia provider. For simple cases such as knee arthroscopies or breast biopsies, the primary anesthesia provider in each operating room will be a CRNA, with one M.D. anesthesiologist serving as the back-up consultant for up to four rooms managed by CRNA’s.
In certain states, the state governor has opted out of the requirement that an M.D. anesthesiologist must supervise all CRNA-provided anesthesia care. In these states, a CRNA may legally provide anesthesia care without a physician supervising them. Currently, the seventeen states that have opted out of physician supervision of CRNA’s include Alaska, California, Colorado, Iowa, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, and Wisconsin. In some hospitals in these states, your anesthesia provider may be an unsupervised nurse anesthetist, not a doctor at all.
Some hospitals have only M.D. anesthesiologists who personally do all the cases.
Academic hospitals, or university hospitals, have residents-in-training who administer most of the anesthetic care. In academic hospitals, faculty members supervise anesthesia residents in a ratio of one faculty to one resident or one faculty to two residents.
Can a surgeon request a specific anesthesia provider? Yes. At times, a surgeon may have certain anesthesia providers that he or she requests and uses on a regular basis. It’s far easier for a surgeon to request a specific anesthesia provider than it is for you to do so.
The assignment of your anesthesia provider is usually made by the scheduler on the afternoon prior to surgery, and you the patient will have little or no say in the matter. If you are like most patients, you have no idea who is an excellent anesthesia provider and who is less skilled. You won’t find much written about anesthesiologists on Yelp, Healthgrades, or other consumer social-media websites. Most patients don’t even remember the name of their anesthesia provider unless something went drastically wrong. Such is the nature of our specialty. Your anesthesia provider will spend a mere ten minutes with you while you’re awake, and during those ten minutes your mind will be reeling with worries about surgical outcomes and risks of anesthesia. The anesthesia provider’s name is not a high priority. After the surgery is over, anesthesiologists are a distant memory.
What if your next-door neighbor is an anesthesiologist whom you respect? What if you are scheduled for surgery at his hospital or surgery center, and you want him to take care of you? Can this be arranged? Most likely, it can. The best plan for requesting a specific anesthesiologist is to have the anesthesiologist work the system from the inside, several days prior to your surgery date. He will talk to the scheduler and make sure that he is assigned into the operating room list that includes your surgery. You’ll be happy and reassured to see him on the day of surgery, and he’ll likely be happy to take care of you. Anesthesiologists love to be requested by patients. It makes us feel special. Doctors aspire to be outstanding clinicians, and a request from a specific patient validates that we are unique.
As you can see, the decision of who is assigned to be the anesthesia provider for your surgery is a multifaceted process. Your best strategy for requesting a specific anesthesiologist is to (1) contact the anesthesiologist yourself and ask that he or she contact anesthesia scheduling and make sure that he or she is scheduled to do your case, or (2) contact your surgeon and ask your surgeon if they can arrange to have the specific anesthesia provider that you request.
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Published in September 2017: The second edition of THE DOCTOR AND MR. DYLAN, Dr. Novak’s debut novel, a medical-legal mystery which blends the science and practice of anesthesiology with unforgettable characters, a page-turning plot, and the legacy of Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan.
In this debut thriller, tragedies strike an anesthesiologist as he tries to start a new life with his son.
Dr. Nico Antone, an anesthesiologist at Stanford University, is married to Alexandra, a high-powered real estate agent obsessed with money. Their son, Johnny, an 11th-grader with immense potential, struggles to get the grades he’ll need to attend an Ivy League college. After a screaming match with Alexandra, Nico moves himself and Johnny from Palo Alto, California, to his frozen childhood home of Hibbing, Minnesota. The move should help Johnny improve his grades and thus seem more attractive to universities, but Nico loves the freedom from his wife, too. Hibbing also happens to be the hometown of music icon Bob Dylan. Joining the hospital staff, Nico runs afoul of a grouchy nurse anesthetist calling himself Bobby Dylan, who plays Dylan songs twice a week in a bar called Heaven’s Door. As Nico and Johnny settle in, their lives turn around; they even start dating the gorgeous mother/daughter pair of Lena and Echo Johnson. However, when Johnny accidentally impregnates Echo, the lives of the Hibbing transplants start to implode. In true page-turner fashion, first-time novelist Novak gets started by killing soulless Alexandra, which accelerates the downfall of his underdog protagonist now accused of murder. Dialogue is pitch-perfect, and the insults hurled between Nico and his wife are as hilarious as they are hurtful: “Are you my husband, Nico? Or my dependent?” The author’s medical expertise proves central to the plot, and there are a few grisly moments, as when “dark blood percolated” from a patient’s nostrils “like coffee grounds.” Bob Dylan details add quirkiness to what might otherwise be a chilly revenge tale; we’re told, for instance, that Dylan taught “every singer with a less-than-perfect voice…how to sneer and twist off syllables.” Courtroom scenes toward the end crackle with energy, though one scene involving a snowmobile ties up a certain plot thread too neatly. By the end, Nico has rolled with a great many punches.
Nuanced characterization and crafty details help this debut soar.
Click on the image below to reach the Amazon link to The Doctor and Mr. Dylan:
Learn more about Rick Novak’s fiction writing at ricknovak.com by clicking on the picture below: