Your Health

Heading To Surgery? Take Stock Of Your Health

If you've ever needed an anesthesiologist, chances are you don't remember him or her. That's part of the deal, right?

A woman receives anesthesia in an operating room. i

Good health makes for lower risks during surgery. iStockphoto.com hide caption

itoggle caption iStockphoto.com
A woman receives anesthesia in an operating room.

Good health makes for lower risks during surgery.

iStockphoto.com

But besides knocking you out and keeping you pain-free during surgery, these specialists are also the ones who monitor your vitals signs, watching for complications.

And guess what? Your health status before surgery has a lot to do with how likely you are to have problems under the knife and afterward.

So now the anesthesiologists, whom you always forget, are remembering you. They want you to be more mindful of important health information, like your blood pressure and cholesterol, and to take action for better health.

"The idea really grew out of clinical practice," Dr. Peter Pronovost, an anesthesiologist and patient safety expert, told Shots. "Anesthesiologist were seeing people suffer complication needlessly because of some of their vital health parameters," he said. Someone who didn't smoke and was in good physical shape "would fly through surgery" while someone with bad health habits wouldn't.

To help, the American Society of Anesthesiologists have an online questionnaire that you can use to get a handle on your health before an operation. Making sure your blood pressure is under control before surgery, for instance, can make a big difference and doesn't take very long to accomplish with the right medicine.

We're not sure we agree with one piece of the otherwise sensible health advice. If you're not getting an annual physical the online tool will suggest you do. But there's been a rethinking of the need for an annual exam for everyone — more of a tradition than an evidence-based norm.

A spokesman for the ASA said, "an annual physical may not be appropriate for every person out there, but the message is that patients need to keep an eye on their vital health measures."

There's no question that advice to quit smoking or drop weight, if you're obese, make sense. And a survey done for the ASA shows there's a gap between what people know about their health and actually do to make it better.

Why, though, would you listen to the anesthesiologist instead of your primary care doctor? "Having surgery is one of those moment when it's ripe to influence a patient's behavior," Pronovost says. And keeping the advice easy to follow is important, he says: "We have to ruthlessly simplify our message about health behaviors."

As for the anonymity of your anesthesiologist, Pronovost says that's a good thing. "Most patients don't know the name of their anesthesiologist," he acknowledges, "but we also don't know our pilot's name" on an airliner. When it comes to safety, the system is more important than the individual providing care, he explains. "Health care has to guarantee that whereever you go there will be a high level of care."

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