The effect of unanticipated perioperative death on anesthesiologists

Can J Anaesth. 2010 Apr;57(4):361-7. doi: 10.1007/s12630-010-9267-7. Epub 2010 Feb 4.


Purpose: Unanticipated perioperative death (UPD) is a significant event for the anesthesiologist that has not been widely studied. An anonymous questionnaire was used to obtain information about the frequency of UPD, anesthesiologists' most significant UPD, and their opinions regarding UPD.

Methods: A questionnaire was mailed to all anesthesiologists who were registered with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta in 2005 (n = 285).

Results: The study achieved a 63% response rate. Sixty-four percent of respondents had been in practice for more than ten years, and 53% of respondents had experienced at least one UPD. After the UPD, 46% of the respondents performed further elective cases the same day, although 62% of them indicated that this was not advisable. Personal consequences were reported. Twenty-five percent felt they were being blamed for the event, and 10% thought about the UPD on a daily basis for more than a year afterwards. Mortality and morbidity reviews were common, and disciplinary consequences occurred infrequently. Sixty-four percent of anesthesiologists' most significant UPDs were elective cases. The etiology of death was thought to be anesthesia-related in only 11% of the UPDs. Although most respondents agreed that supportive and educational activities in the aftermath were advisable, such activities occurred in a minority of cases.

Conclusions: Alberta anesthesiologists are likely to experience UPD during their careers, and the experience can be associated with important personal consequences. Support for the anesthesiologist is inconsistent, and many continued to perform elective cases immediately following UPD. These conditions were not supported by the majority of respondents.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alberta
  • Anesthesiology*
  • Clinical Competence
  • Death*
  • Elective Surgical Procedures
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Surveys and Questionnaires