Advocacy, Research, and Anesthesia Practice Models: Key Studies of Safety and Cost-Effectiveness

Policy Polit Nurs Pract. 2019 Nov;20(4):193-204. doi: 10.1177/1527154419874410. Epub 2019 Sep 11.


The practice of anesthesia includes multiple competing practice models, including services delivered by anesthesiologists, independent practice by certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs), and team-based approaches incorporating anesthesiologist supervision or direction of CRNAs. Despite data demonstrating very low risk of death and complications associated with anesthesia, debate among professional societies and policymakers persists over the superiority or equivalence among these models. The American Society of Anesthesiologists uses published findings as evidence for claims that anesthesia is safer when anesthesiologists lead in providing care. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists cites its own research on safety and cost-efficiency outcomes to defend against these claims. We review and critique studies of the safety outcomes and cost-effectiveness of anesthesia delivery that have been cited in the Federal Trade Commission comment letters related to competition in health care, where each profession has laid out their case for how they ought to be recognized in the market for anesthesia services. The Federal Trade Commission has a role in protecting consumers from anticompetitive conduct that has the potential to impact quality and cost in health care. Thus, it is important to evaluate the evidence used to make claims about these topics. We argue that while research in this area is imperfect, the strong safety record of anesthesia in general and CRNAs in particular suggest that politics and professional interests are the main drivers of supervision policy in anesthesia delivery.

Keywords: anesthesia; anesthesiology; nurse anesthetists; perioperative care; politics; research.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anesthesia / history
  • Anesthesia / mortality
  • Anesthesiologists / economics*
  • Anesthesiologists / standards*
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Delivery of Health Care / economics*
  • Delivery of Health Care / standards*
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Nurse Anesthetists / economics*
  • Nurse Anesthetists / standards*
  • Patient Safety
  • Politics
  • Scope of Practice*
  • Societies, Medical
  • Societies, Nursing
  • United States
  • United States Federal Trade Commission