Thirty-eight percent of patients in the epidural group received IV analgesic or anxiolytic drugs intraoperatively, compared with only 17% of the spinal group (P = 0.04). A similar percentage of patients in both groups required postoperative pain medication in the PACU (15% in the epidural group and 23% in the spinal group).
Six patients in the epidural group and none in the spinal group had complications significant enough to be noted on the anesthetic record or postoperative notes (P = 0.03). We did not consider transient hypotension or the use of ephedrine a "significant" complication. The complications in the epidural group included one dural puncture, one intrathecal catheter, one intravascular needle and catheter, and three inadequate blocks. Of the three inadequate blocks, one was converted to a spinal anesthetic, one had another epidural catheter placed, and one had the catheter adjusted. Two of these anesthesia administrations with complications had excessively long times from entering the OR until incision (78 and 84 min). However, excluding these times from the analysis did not affect the results.
Cost analyses revealed that patients would have been charged an average of $260 more for OR use and anesthesia professional fees with epidural as compared with spinal anesthesia, based on charges for the additional 17 min spent in the OR. Because our institution has a fixed fee for anesthesia materials and equipment, regardless of duration of the procedure, those charges were the same. There were no extra patient charges incurred by complications of epidural blocks, other than the additional time required to perform the blocks. There was no professional fee for epidural blood patches, and neither of the two patients receiving a patch required prolonged hospitalization. Differences in direct hospital costs based on purchase prices for drugs and materials used for spinal and epidural anesthesia, and nursing salaries for the additional OR time were relatively small Table 3.
The increasing role of managed care in the health services market provides stronger incentives to deliver effective and efficient medical care. In a retrospective manner we have compared two anesthetic techniques, analyzed time and resource utilization, and documented associated complications.
Our data support our initial impression that spinal anesthesia results in a shorter OR time than does epidural anesthesia. This finding is not unexpected, as an epidural block is inherently more time-consuming than a spinal block. To administer an epidural block, the anesthesiologist must progress more slowly with the epidural needle to avoid a dural puncture, the epidural catheter must be threaded and taped, a test dose must be given and the patient observed for 3-5 min to exclude IV or intrathecal placement, and the entire local anesthetic dose must be administered incrementally. Furthermore, the onset of epidural anesthesia is slower than that of spinal anesthesia. The time differences resulting from these factors is enough to account for the observed 17 min difference in OR time. Although critics may claim that anesthesia time is unusually prolonged in a teaching hospital setting as compared with a private practice setting, we content that safe administration of epidural anesthesia must, of necessity, take longer than spinal anesthesia. Moreover, our results agree with those of others who have reported 22 min  and 18 min  differences between the techniques.
Despite the fact that spinal anesthesia may result in a denser motor block than epidural anesthesia, it did not increase time spent in the PACU. Choice of local anesthetic, rather than technique, is probably a more important determinant of PACU discharge time. Shorter PACU times might have been achieved by using lidocaine in spinal anesthetics and chloroprocaine in epidural blocks. However, the former may provide an inadequate duration of analgesia and the latter antagonizes the analgesia obtained with epidural morphine.
A lesser requirement for supplemental intraoperative analgesia with spinal anesthesia suggests that these patients were more comfortable than those with epidural anesthetics. This may reflect the superiority of spinal anesthesia. It may also relate to patients having received intraspinal morphine at the beginning of the case rather than after delivery, as occurred with epidural anesthesia. In addition, more patients in the spinal group received fentanyl in conjunction with morphine, a practice which improves the quality of spinal anesthesia . Our data lend support to the theory that patients can be made more comfortable with spinal than with epidural anesthesia .
The lower complication rate associated with spinal anesthesia was an unexpected finding. Perhaps because it is technically simpler to perform, there is less potential for procedural problems with spinal anesthesia. Of particular note is that significant PDPH developed only in patients receiving epidural anesthesia, reflecting the very low incidence of PDPH with pencilpoint spinal needles [3,4]. The PDPH rate with epidural anesthesia is probably higher than would be expected among nontrainee anesthesiologists, although even in experienced hands a PDPH rate of approximately 0.5% still may be anticipated [9,10].
The charges to patients who had spinal anesthesia were significantly less than those to patients who had epidural anesthesia. However, patient charges do not reflect the true costs of medical procedures and are meaningless in managed or capitated systems. Examining costs is a better way to compare economic advantages among techniques. In this study, the difference in direct costs between the techniques was relatively small (approximately $20). In contrast, the increased indirect costs associated with epidural anesthesia may be of greater consequence. The American Society of Anesthesiologists' Guidelines For Regional Anesthesia In Obstetrics  state that there be "a physician with privileges in obstetrics who is readily available" before starting an anesthetic for cesarean section. Therefore, the additional time taken to perform the epidural block not only occupies the anesthesiologist, but also the obstetrician, surgical assistant, and OR nurses. In addition, the OR is occupied for a longer period, which may be significant in a busy obstetrical service. Patient discomfort with PDPH and greater intraoperative discomfort also could be considered additional indirect costs of epidural anesthesia.
One important factor not addressed in this study is the higher incidence of hypotension associated with spinal anesthesia . We did not include this as a complication because hypotension is usually successfully managed with volume loading, vasopressors, and left uterine displacement. When transient, it is without untoward effects on the fetus [12,13]. Although difficult to evaluate in a retrospective study of this nature, we detected no major differences in the condition of the newborn between the techniques.
In conclusion, we believe that spinal anesthesia may be a better choice for elective cesarean section than epidural anesthesia. It is faster to perform, patients are more comfortable, complication rates are lower, and it is more cost effective. However, if a functioning epidural catheter is in place for labor analgesia in a patient who needs a cesarean section, there is no reason not to use the epidural for surgical anesthesia. Epidural anesthesia also may be preferable in medical conditions such as pregnancy-induced hypertension or cardiac disease, where a slower onset of sympathetic block is desirable, or in cases in which prolonged anesthesia may be required.
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© 1995 International Anesthesia Research Society
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