Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Anesthesia v. The Joint Commission

The following was written by a colleague who wishes to remain anonymous but whose permission I have to reprint it here. I think it expresses what a lot of people are thinking but can only admit in private.

Dear JCAHO (Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, a.k.a. "Jay-Co" to clinicians talking about you or, most commonly, complaining about you):

Over the years I have dealt with your incessant nitpicking by reminding myself that the regulation of institutions responsible for human lives is, in principle, a GOOD THING. I believe in safeguards. I believe in holding organizations to high safety standards. I believe accountability is important.

But over the years I have also wondered how it is that the bureaucrats that come to survey our hospitals can be so unimaginably clueless about the practicalities of patient care. Yes, perhaps they have had clinical experience in the past, are highly qualified (according to you), and have an alphabet soup of degrees after their names that purportedly validate their authority. Yet why do they seem unable to belie the stereotype of the out-of-touch, small-minded bean counter who has absolutely no idea how the real world of caring for patients really works?

You've already received a missive about this from representatives of all the major anesthesia organizations in the U.S., but I feel that their diplomacy diminished the forcefulness their words could have had.

I've gritted my teeth and had to accept the locked anesthesia cart you mandated in the obstetric O.R. despite the fact that if a pregnant woman were hemorrhaging TO DEATH and needed a true STAT C-section, the delay caused by having to retrieve the key to open the cart might actually KILL her AND her baby.

I've rolled my eyes at the various little rules you add each year, with the determination and scrupulousness of people whose mission in life is to add at least ONE new rule each year come hell or high water, even if on occasion one of your commands might, for example, be to get rid of the very form you made us adopt the LAST time you came.

But I cannot, cannot, CANNOT wrap my mind around the completely ASININE prohibition against pre-labeling my medication syringes and against the transport of medicines on my person for the sake of patient safety / emergencies, and the criticism of anesthesia practitioners for not labeling the STERILE syringes of a spinal kit when there is absolutely no discontinuity in the opening of the kit, drawing up of the medication, and injection of the medication into a SHARP OBJECT STABBED INTO SOMEONE's BACK which needs to be done as swiftly as possible once the patient's cerebrospinal fluid is observed leaking out of his or her spinal canal.

You would rather, as I understand it, INTERRUPT a procedure for the sake of a literally USELESS step, CONTAMINATE a sterile kit with a nonsterile label, and risk the injurious complication of arachnoiditis from the ink on a labeling pen, than have a spinal anesthetic performed cleanly, efficiently, and above all, SAFELY.

You would rather I draw medication up into an UNLABELED syringe, leaving it unrecognizable for a few seconds or its contents potentially forgotten, than allow me the opportunity to SAFEGUARD the drawing-up process by making sure my label and my medication vial MATCH. Pre-labeling, by the way, is an EVIDENCE-BASED safety practice, unlike your nonsensical and over-intrusive prohibition.

Most egregiously, you would rather a patient CODE AND DIE during transport than have me carrying with me the very interventions that might save that patient's life. And for what? For the sake of making sure pharmaceuticals are locked away, locked away, locked away? Who is protected by this kind of imbecilic medical tyranny?

The above satirical cartoon sums up in a few seconds why you appear to be almost universally despised by the medical community. Arguably no one is more obsessed with patient safety than an anesthesiologist, and we certainly know intimately the day-to-day practices that safeguard it. Perhaps, then, YOU should take a few mandates from US. You might subsequently find your recommendations and regulations actually having some lasting positive impact and earning something with which you might be unfamiliar: respect.


An anesthesiologist somewhere in the U.S. who cares deeply about patients and their safety.


Anonymous said...

I agree with everything you said. I will state that you being an anesthesiologist, it doesn't surprise me one bit you made the JCAHO character an RN with all her alphabet soup. Please remember, there are physicians that do surveys as well. With all kinds of letters behind their name. Don't take yet another opportunity to degrade nurses, when it wasn't warranted.

T. said...

I didn't create the character or the video - I merely stumbled upon it and found it amusing. I don't know why you would make that assumption simply based on my profession. I guess everyone has prejudices.