Anesthesiologist Staffing Considerations Consequent to the Temporal Distribution of Hypoxemic Episodes in the Postanesthesia Care Unit

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BACKGROUND:Hypoxemia, as measured by pulse oximetry (SpO2), is common in postanesthesia care unit (PACU) patients. The temporal distribution of desaturation has managerial implications because treatment may necessitate the presence of an anesthesiologist.METHODS:We retrieved SpO2 values recorded electronically every 30 to 60 seconds from 137,757 PACU patients over n = 80 four-week periods at an academic medical center. Batch mean methods of analysis were used. Onset times of hypoxemic episodes (defined, on the basis of previous studies, as SpO2 <90% lasting at least 2 minutes) were determined and resolution at 3, 5, and 10 minutes was assessed. Episodes beginning <30 minutes and ≥30 minutes after PACU admission were compared. Patients undergoing intubation in the PACU were identified by doing a free text search of electronically recorded nursing notes for phrases suggesting intubation, followed by a confirmatory manual chart review. Intervals from PACU admission to intubation were determined.RESULTS:Fewer than half (31.2% ± 0.05%) of episodes of PACU hypoxemia lasting ≥2 minutes occurred <30 minutes after PACU admission. Most (i.e., >50%) occurred ≥30 minutes after admission (P < 0.0001). Few (<1%) anesthesia providers transporting patients to the PACU were still present in the PACU 30 minutes after arrival in the PACU. Fewer than half (37%; 95% confidence interval, 27.4% to 48.8%) of PACU intubations occurred <30 minutes after PACU admission. Most (i.e., >50%) occurred ≥30 minutes after admission (P = 0.029). Hypoxemic episodes in the PACU resolved more slowly than episodes in operating rooms (P < 0.0001). After 3 minutes, 40.9% ± 0.6% were unresolved in the PACU versus 23% (99% upper confidence limit) in operating rooms, and 32.6% ± 0.5% vs 9% (99% upper confidence limit) after 5 minutes.CONCLUSIONS:Because most (68.8%) hypoxemic episodes in the PACU occur ≥30 minutes after admission, a time by which the anesthesia provider who transported the patient usually would no longer be present (>99% of cases), the PACU needs to be considered when anesthesiologist operating room staffing and assignment decisions are made.

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