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Increasing patient weight takes its toll on anaesthetists

December 17, 2015

Increasing patient weight takes its toll on anaesthetists

The daily strain of dealing with severely obese patients is taking its toll on the medical profession as well as hospital resources, a new survey by the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA) has revealed.

More than 800 anaesthetists across Australia and New Zealand responded to a questionnaire distributed on October 16, National Anaesthesia Day, that showed 64 per cent of anaesthetists believe obesity is the most common pre-operative complication.

Their answers provide a unique snapshot of the profession’s changing patient profile.

Most respondents (70 per cent) also agreed that obesity increased risks before, during and after operations and only three per cent strongly disagreed.

Nearly 65 per cent of anaesthetists reported they had up to four obese patients on their hospital lists the previous day (October 15, 2015).

In answer to the question “How strongly do you agree that obesity increases lifetime risks?” 95 per cent of those surveyed strongly agreed or agreed.

Professor David Story, Chair of Anaesthesia at the University of Melbourne and a Fellow of ANZCA said the comments from anaesthetists revealed a high degree of concern about the pressures of dealing with obese and morbidly obese patients on a daily basis.

More than 340 anaesthetists provided comments with their responses.

“There seems to be consensus that caring for such a high percentage of obese patients, and the complications their weight presents, is an increasing source of professional stress,” Professor Story said.

Comments included:

· “It generally just makes everything harder – from IV insertion, to airway management, ventilation, positioning, regional insertion … in almost every aspect of what we do, it ups the ante. It’s so prevalent now we’re almost becoming immune to it.”

· “At least two-thirds of my patients are obese.”

· “Difficulty with drug dosing, patients’ movements to and from operating table.”

· “Greatly increases my anxiety levels.”

· “Obesity used to be [seen] once a week or less, now often it’s a daily occurrence.”

Professor Story said a strong theme in the snapshot of the views of anaesthetists was the lack of awareness by patients of their obesity and how this affected their health, and the difficulties anaesthetists sometimes had in discussing the issue.

“As a profession we need to encourage honest and sensitive conversations with patients who are severely overweight or obese about the risks to their health before, during and after anaesthesia.”


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