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Deaths Linked to Anesthesia are Falling

Update Date: Oct 15, 2014 09:46 AM EDT

According to a new study, numbers reveal that deaths tied to anesthesia have fallen over the years. However, despite these drops, the research team found that more could still be done to reduce the risk of injuries.

For this study, the researchers examined 607 claims linked to anesthesia that were reported by The Doctors Company, which is the country's largest medical malpractice insurer that is owned by physicians.

The team discovered that nearly 80 percent of the anesthesia claims were regarding complications that were already explained to the patients prior to the procedure. Even though the conditions were explained, the researchers explained that many of the patients might not have sufficient amount of knowledge to properly assess those complications. The most common form of injury caused by anesthesia was tooth damage at 20.8 percent.

The researchers also reported that taking down a patient's complete medical history and physical evaluations can help prevent complications. For example, if a patient suffers from sleep apnea, taking measures can lower risk of complications associated with anesthesia. Other health conditions that could increase risk of complications include any seizure activity, allergies, previous history of reacting to anesthetics and any difficulty with intubations.

"The results of this study show how important it is for physicians to communicate with patients about the outcomes of their care and to link informed consent discussions with the complication that they experienced," said co-author Richard D. Urman, MD, assistant professor of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School and a staff anesthesiologist at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA, according to the press release. "Patients may still be unhappy with the outcome, but they will have a better understanding of the cause of their injury and be less likely to incorrectly ascribe the injury to substandard care."

The study, "Analysis of Patient Injury Based on Anesthesiology Closed Claims Data from a Major Malpractice Insurer," was published in the Journal of Healthcare Risk Management.

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