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Ambulatory surgery: is the liability risk lower?

Metzner, Julia; Kent, Christopher D.

Current Opinion in Anesthesiology: December 2012 - Volume 25 - Issue 6 - p 654–658
doi: 10.1097/ACO.0b013e3283592f90
AMBULATORY ANESTHESIA: Edited by J. Lance Lichtor

Purpose of review To summarize the currently available data on malpractice claims related to ambulatory anesthesia and provide an insight into the emerging patterns of anesthesia liability in this practice setting.

Recent findings At present, studies are mixed about how the continued growth of outpatient surgery will impact liability for anesthesiologists. Data derived from the ASA Closed Claims Project suggests that malpractice claims for major damaging events are less common in the outpatient settings than in inpatient settings. Correspondingly, the payment amounts for outpatient claims are significantly lower than those for inpatients. Nevertheless, nondisabling adverse events are common and involve respiratory, cardiac, equipment-related, and drug errors. In addition, the vast majority of injuries in outpatient claims was the result of substandard care and judged preventable by better monitoring. Although major incidents leading to malpractice suits are less, new liability exposure may be on the horizon, due to the changing landscape of ambulatory practice that permits care for sicker patients who require more complex surgeries. The areas of potential concern include postoperative discharge criteria, care for the obstructive sleep apnea patient, and the choice of anesthetic techniques such as neuraxial blocks and monitored anesthesia care.

Summary With steady increase in outpatient surgery, anesthesiologists are confronted with new areas of liability. More data are needed to identify these risks and reduce exposure to malpractice claims.

Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, Washington, USA

Correspondence to Julia Metzner, MD, Department of Anesthesiology, Box 356540, University of Washington School of Medicine, 1959 NE Pacific Street, Seattle, WA 98195-6540, USA. Tel: +1 206 598 4260; fax: +1 206 543 4544; e-mail:

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.