Experts say technicians are vital to anesthesia patient safety


In a recent summit, anesthesiologists highlight technicians' important role.

Anesthesia safety has vastly improved over the years, but pets still face a risk when they're anesthetized. In North and South America, the risk of anesthetic-related death in dogs is about 0.1 percent, according to an article in the Oct. 1, 2008, issue of the JournaloftheAmerican Veterinary Medical Association. This is a low number, but it's still higher than the 0.02 percent to 0.05 percent risk of anesthetic-related death humans face.

To discuss ways to minimize veterinary patient risk, anesthesiologists gathered to participate in a recent summit hosted by Abbott Animal Health. One idea that was raised: Veterinary technicians provide a key to making anesthesia safer for patients.

"While surgical specialists abound, there are relatively few board-certified anesthesiologists-fewer than 200-in North America," says Dr. Khursheed Mama, DACVA, associate professor of veterinary anesthesia at Colorado State University and a participant in the Abbott summit. "Therefore, to universally improve safety during anesthesia, we need to involve both veterinary practitioners and veterinary technicians in developing and adhering to standards of care."

Dr. Mama goes on to say that technicians are already poised to help. "They're vested in patients well-being and often serve as their advocate," she says.

How can highly trained technicians serve patients even more? By focusing specifically on monitoring and supporting pets during anesthesia, rather than periodically checking in on them while also opening surgery packs or answering the phones. Another critical role is to recognize and facilitate treatment of adverse events-in consultation with the veterinarian-that might occur during anesthesia.

To develop these special skills, technicians could seek specialty certification through the Academy of Veterinary Technician Anesthetists. Alternatively, they could receive additional training from an anesthesiologist or from the in-house veterinarian to learn to better manage the cases commonly seen in their practice environment.

For more information on veterinary technician specialties, including an anesthesia specialty, click here. To read a research update from Veterinary Medicine about the risk factors for anesthetic-related death, click here.

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