The Scope of the Anesthesiologist's Practice

The medical expertise of this specialist has caused a dramatic expansion of the role of the anesthesiologist. Historically, anesthesiologists have been known primarily as physicians who administer anesthesia to alleviate pain and suppress consciousness of the patient undergoing surgery. Today, anesthesiologists also provide medical care and consultations in many other settings and situations in addition to the operating room.

The anesthesiologist is a perioperative physician ("peri" meaning "all-around") who provides medical care to each patient through his or her surgical experience. This includes medically evaluating the patient before surgery (preoperative), consulting with the surgical team, providing pain control and support of life functions during surgery (intraoperative), supervising care after surgery (postoperative) and medically discharging the patient from the recovery unit.

1. Why is There a Preoperative Interview and When does it Occur?

Anesthesia and surgery affect your entire system, so it is important for your anesthesiologist to know as much about you as possible. Therefore, it is vital that your anesthesiologist has the opportunity to meet you prior to your surgery or procedure.  This is often done in a “preoperative area” the day of your surgery.  But occasionally, your anesthesiologist may be consulted to do a preoperative assessment before the day of surgery.  During the preop interview, the physician anesthesiologist will ask you detailed questions about your health, your medical history and will examine you.   The anesthesiologist will review your medications, allergies, medical conditions (i.e. hypertension, obstructive sleep apnea, diabetes, etc.), recent health changes, past surgical history, past anesthesia history, and your recent tests & procedures (i.e. lab tests, EKG, stress tests). Then, you and your physician anesthesiologist will create an anesthesia plan designed specifically for you to give you the safest and most successful outcome.  You will discuss the risks and benefits, of your anesthesia choices. Additional tests, preoperative medications may be ordered and given during this time.

2. During the Surgery, What Does my Anesthesiologist Do?

During your procedure,  the anesthesiologist will personally administer your anesthesia while monitoring your vital functions and treating vital organ responses as needed.  He or she will regulate the anesthesia and manage your pain control so that you will be comfortable until your anesthetic care is completed.
Frequently, people requiring surgery may have other medical conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, obstructive sleep apnea, high blood pressure, arthritis or heart problems.   Your anesthesiologist will be alert to these conditions and is well-prepared to treat them during surgery and immediately afterward. Appropriate medical management during surgery is necessary to help you have a speedy recovery. Physicians anesthesiologists have the extensive education and experience not only to evaluate, diagnose and treat the entire potentially life threatening complications that can suddenly occur during surgery, but also to treat chronic medical conditions that may need special attention during your surgical procedure.

3. After Surgery, What Can I Expect?

Your anesthesiologist continues to be responsible for your care in the recovery room, often called the post-anesthesia care unit. Here, the anesthesiologist directs specially trained nurses who monitor your condition and vital signs as the effects of the anesthesia wear off. Your anesthesiologist will determine when you are able to leave the recovery room and may also be involved with your pain management following your surgical procedure.

Information Adapted from the American Society of Anesthesiologists.