Example of a Policy on Unintended Intraoperative Awareness

July 1, 2005 | Health System Risk Management


Patients may awaken during an operation for a variety of reasons. For example, the amount of anesthetic may have been insufficient or a technical failure in the vaporizer or anesthesia machine could have affected the delivery of the drugs to the patient. Awareness is also more likely to occur when anesthesia is delivered intravenously than when it is administered through inhalation. The experience of intraoperative awareness may lead some patients to sue for malpractice; however, most awareness incidents do not result in claims.

There are measures that facilities and their clinicians can adopt to minimize the risk of intraoperative awareness and to ensure that patient complaints of awareness are handled appropriately. Preoperative assessment, monitoring for inadequate sedation, and postoperative follow-up can assist in preventing and handling intraoperative awareness. The American Society of Anesthesiologists offers this sample policy for unintended intraoperative awareness, and healthcare organizations should view...

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