American Society of Anesthesiologists

Five Things Physicians and Patients Should Question

Released October 12, 2013

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1

Don’t obtain baseline laboratory studies in patients without significant systemic disease (ASA I or II) undergoing low-risk surgery – specifically complete blood count, basic or comprehensive metabolic panel, coagulation studies when blood loss (or fluid shifts) is/are expected to be minimal.

Performing routine laboratory tests in patients who are otherwise healthy is of little value in detecting disease. Evidence suggests that a targeted history and physical exam should determine whether pre-procedure laboratory studies should be obtained. The current recommendation from the 2003 ASA amendment that all female patients of childbearing age be offered pregnancy testing rather than required to undergo testing has provided individual physicians and hospitals the opportunity to set their own practices and policies relating to preoperative pregnancy testing. Some institutions respect the right of a patient to refuse testing after a thorough explanation of the anesthetic risks during pregnancy and the required signing of a waiver. The avoidance of the routine administration of the pregnancy test was therefore excluded from our Top 5 preoperative recommendations.

The risk specifically related to the surgical procedure could however modify the above preoperative recommendation to obtain laboratory studies and when the need arises; the decision to implement should include a joint decision between the anesthesiologists and surgeons. This should be applicable to all outpatient surgery.

2

Don’t obtain baseline diagnostic cardiac testing (trans-thoracic/ esophageal echocardiography – TTE/TEE) or cardiac stress testing in asymptomatic stable patients with known cardiac disease (e.g., CAD, valvular disease) undergoing low or moderate risk non-cardiac surgery.

Advances in cardiovascular medical management, particularly the introduction of perioperative beta-blockade and improvements in surgical and anesthetic techniques, have significantly decreased operative morbidity and mortality rates in noncardiac surgery. Surgical outcomes continue to improve causing the mortality rate of major surgeries to be low and the need for revascularization minimal. Consequently, the role of preoperative cardiac stress testing has been reduced to the identification of extremely high-risk patients, for instance, those with significant left main disease for which preoperative revascularization would be beneficial regardless of the impending procedure. In other words, testing may be appropriate if the results would change management prior to surgery, could change the decision of the patient to undergo surgery, or change the type of procedure that the surgeon will perform.

3

Don’t use pulmonary artery catheters (PACs) routinely for cardiac surgery in patients with a low risk of hemodynamic complications (especially with the concomitant use of alternative diagnostic tools (e.g., TEE).

The increased risk of hemodynamic complications as indicated above is defined as a patient with clinical evidence of significant cardiovascular disease; pulmonary dysfunction, hypoxia, renal insufficiency or other conditions associated with hemodynamic instability (e.g., advanced age, endocrine disorders, sepsis, trauma, burns).

The use of a PAC during cardiac surgery has been associated with increased mortality and a higher risk of severe end-organ complications. There is clear consensus in the literature that the use of a PAC cannot be recommended as a matter of routine, but for a definite role in a very select group of patients undergoing cardiac surgery. According to a survey by practicing anesthesiologists, the use of PAC could be recommended for specific indications in cardiac surgery including coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) with poor left ventricular (LV) function, LV aneurysmectomy, recent myocardial infarction, pulmonary hypertension, diastolic dysfunction, acute ventricular septal rupture and insertion of left ventricular assist device. The appropriate indications remain debatable. However, although the PAC has no role in routine perioperative care, the existence of a specific subpopulation for which the use of this device may be beneficial cannot be excluded.

4

Don’t administer packed red blood cells (PRBCs) in a young healthy patient without ongoing blood loss and hemoglobin of ≥ 6 g/dL unless symptomatic or hemodynamically unstable.

The hemoglobin transfusion threshold used in multiple studies has varied from 6.0 to 10.0 g/dL. The optimal hemoglobin/hematocrit criterion for transfusion remains controversial in several clinical settings. Nevertheless, compared with higher hemoglobin thresholds, a lower hemoglobin threshold is associated with fewer red blood cell units transfused without adverse associations with mortality, cardiac morbidity, functional recovery or length of hospital stay. Hospital mortality remains lower in patients randomized to a lower hemoglobin threshold for transfusion versus those randomized to a higher hemoglobin threshold.

The decision to transfuse should be based on a combination of both clinical and hemodynamic parameters.

5

Don’t routinely administer colloid (dextrans, hydroxylethyl starches, albumin) for volume resuscitation without appropriate indications.

There is no evidence from multiple randomized controlled trials and recent reviews/meta-analyses that resuscitation with colloids reduces the risk of death compared to crystalloids. Colloids offer no survival benefit and are considerably more expensive than crystalloids; their continued routine use in clinical practice should therefore be questioned. Recent perioperative data on the use of colloids in certain populations remain controversial; nevertheless, there is consensus on the avoidance of the routine use of colloids for volume resuscitation in the general surgical population given the overwhelming amount of evidence in the literature of possible harm when used in un-indicated patients. Health care providers should refer to the current evolving literature when faced with specific conditions like sepsis, traumatic brain injury, acute renal injury and burns thereby creating a forum for discussion among the care providers of the efficacy of such a treatment in that individual patient.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that the endpoint in most studies is mortality and morbidity. There is insufficient data to adequately address the need of colloids over crystalloids for other endpoints of interest like hypotension, need for blood transfusion, length of hospital stay, etc. Further research may be required to delineate the existence of any particular benefits of colloids over crystalloids.

These items are provided solely for informational purposes and are not intended as a substitute for consultation with a medical professional. Patients with any specific questions about the items on this list or their individual situation should consult their physician.

The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) is an educational research and scientific association of physicians organized to raise and maintain the standards of the medical practice of anesthesiology and improves the care of the patient. Since its founding in 1905, the Society’s achievements have made it an important voice in American medicine and the foremost advocate for all patients who require anesthesia or relief from pain. As physicians, anesthesiologists are responsible for administering anesthesia to relieve pain and for managing vital life functions, including breathing, heart rhythm and blood pressure, during surgery. After surgery, they maintain the patient in a comfortable state during the recovery and are involved in the provision of critical care medicine in the intensive care unit.

For more information about ASA, visit www.asahq.org.

How this list was created: The list started as an academic project of Onyi C. Onuoha, M.D., M.P.H A review of the literature and practice guidelines as approved by the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) was performed to identify an evidence-based list of activities to question within the field of anesthesiology. A multi-step survey of anesthesiologists in both the academic and private sector and ASA Committees of Jurisdiction was performed to generate a “Top 5 List” list of preoperative and intraoperative activities. The final list was endorsed by the ASA and accepted for the Choosing Wisely® campaign. We believe that developing strategies whereby all stakeholders in the perioperative team are involved in the implementation is a means in which anesthesiologists could be engaged in the efforts to reduce over-utilization of low value, non-indicated medical services evident in the U.S. health system today.

ASA’s disclosure and conflict of interest policy can be found at www.asahq.org.

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