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A small, self-interested group has proposed removing doctors from anesthesia care teams during the past two legislative sessions.

Their bills have not passed because removing doctors from anesthesia care teams would threaten the safety of patients having surgery, and the public does not support that change. Yet the proposal is back again this year. West Virginia legislators should again reject it as unsafe.

Mark Blankenship Enterprises, a West Virginia polling firm, surveyed voters last month to determine their opinions on anesthesia care, and whom they want for their future care. By overwhelming majorities, those surveyed are very satisfied with their anesthesia care, would prefer a medical doctor administer anesthesia during any surgery and oppose the Legislature changing the law to allow nurses to administer anesthesia without the supervision of a medical doctor.

Respondents are convinced that anesthesiology is a complicated medical endeavor and requires highly trained medical doctors who can treat any life-threatening situations while patients are under anesthesia.

The survey included 400 West Virginia voters. It was done scientifically, to cover all demographic groups from all areas of the state. All groups and all areas reported satisfaction with their anesthesia care, and disapproved of eliminating medical doctor supervision.

Some pertinent details from the survey: 74% report they are very satisfied with their anesthesia care; and 84% are convinced medical doctors are needed for life-threatening occurrences during anesthesia and surgery. Majorities of women, men, Republicans, Democrats and independents opposed changing the law to allow nurses to administer anesthesia to patients without the supervision of a medical doctor. Details of the survey are being given to legislators and others.

The bottom line from West Virginia voters is, do not change something that works well, and keep anesthesia care safe with medical doctor supervision.

Dr. Robert Johnstone is a professor at West Virginia University School of Medicine.

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