JCAHO says risk managers play a role with awareness

Dennis S. O’Leary, MD, president of JCAHO, tells Healthcare Risk Management that risk managers should take a lead role in ensuring that all staff members are aware of the problem of anesthesia awareness. "The patient who has had such an experience can end up anywhere in the hospital," he says, such as the intensive care unit, an obstetrical floor, or an inpatient unit. "As you get away from surgical units, the possibility that nurses and house staff are not aware of this problem goes up. There is a risk of discounting the patient’s description or expression of concern."

If the staff is educated throughout the organization, there is a better chance that patient concerns will be address properly and not dismissed, he says.

Roger W. Litwiller, MD, president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, also notes that you can not rely entirely on anesthesia professionals to deal with the problem because they often have contact with the patient only immediately before and after a procedure. By the time the patient is recovering and possibly remembering awareness, follow-up contact is more likely made by other health care professionals.

"If we can make the whole medical community aware, then we might have the opportunity to catch those cases that otherwise might slip through our fingers," he says.