How the anesthesiologist shortage impeded care in 2023: 5 notes

For ASCs, providing anesthesia in 2023 was a huge obstacle amid provider shortages and declining reimbursements.   

"Today's shortage of anesthesia providers has been compounding for years and has turned into an incredible challenge for all," Andrew Lovewell, CEO of Columbia (Mo.) Orthopaedic Group, told Becker's. "Not only is it difficult to find anesthesia coverage, finding coverage that understands and embraces the priorities and workflow of an ASC are seemingly impossible."

Here are five key notes on how the shortage tangibly affected providers:

1. More than 2,872 anesthesiologists left the workforce from 2021 to 2022, according to a report from Definitive Healthcare. 

2. ASCs are struggling to afford to pay anesthesiologists as costs soar. 

"Anesthesia used to be a seemingly unlimited commodity," Jeff Dottl, principal at Ventura, Calif.-based Physicians Surgery Centers, told Becker's. "They were lucky to be invited to work at your surgery center. The tables have turned, and now if centers have anyone to cover anesthesia, it usually comes at a hefty price." 

3. In November, Portland, Ore.-based Providence Portland Medical Center and Providence St. Vincent Medical Center canceled several hundred surgeries because of a shortage of anesthesia providers. The shortage dame after the hospitals' anesthesia staffing was taken over by Tacoma, Wash.-based, private equity-backed Sound Physicians. 

4. In January, Montana's health systems said they had been experiencing a shortage of anesthesiologists. Billings Clinic, for its part, had signed a contract with Billings Anesthesiology in November 2022 to alleviate the shortage. 

5. Shawna Alfano, MSN, RN, administrator and director of nursing of Walnut Creek, Calif.-based BASS Surgery Center, told Becker's that the importance of an anesthesia backup plan was the most important thing she learned in 2023. 

"Without anesthesia, it really does not matter whether a center can run successfully from a financial standpoint, as you are not running anything without the proper medical staff to perform the cases," she said. 

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