Anesthesiologists showcase cutting-edge research to transform patient care

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(BPT) - Traumatic brain injury (TBI) leads to depression in women more often than men. Minority patients are more likely to die after surgery. Parents may benefit from using virtual reality to ease their anxiety when their children have surgery. These were among the many cutting-edge studies impacting patient care presented at the recent ANESTHESIOLOGY® 2023, the annual meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA).

“Over their lifetimes, many Americans may experience TBI, endure health care disparities or experience anxiety when their child is having surgery,” said ASA President Ronald L. Harter, M.D., FASA. “This groundbreaking research has real-world implications for patients and their families and aims to improve health care for everyone. Anesthesiologists are on the forefront of advancing scientific inquiry to improve patients’ surgical experience before, during and after a procedure.”

Here are a few examples of the new findings anesthesiologists recently presented at ANESTHESIOLOGY 2023.

Women at much higher risk of depression after TBI

Most studies showing the link between TBI and depression have focused on men. But according to an analysis of nine studies and nearly 700,000 people, women are nearly 50% more likely than men to develop depression after suffering a concussion or other TBI. This research represents the highest-quality evidence to date that a patient’s gender influences the risk of depression after TBI, according to Isaac G. Freedman, M.D., MPH, lead author of the study and an anesthesiology resident at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston.

Every year, about 1.5 million Americans suffer a TBI, which can lead to long-term health effects such as memory loss and behavioral changes. Common causes of TBI in women include falls, intimate partner violence, trauma related to military service and sports-related concussion. Women’s soccer has the highest rate of concussions of all contact sports, a separate study recently found.

Women should be aware of the risk of developing depression after a brain injury, even if they have no prior history of mental health challenges, and should know what signs and symptoms to look for and when to seek help. Doctors may consider screening women for depression if they have had a TBI.

Black and Hispanic patients much more likely to die after surgery than white patients

Twelve thousand Black and Hispanic patients who died after surgery the past two decades may have lived if there were no racial and ethnic disparities among Americans having surgery, according to a study of more than 1.5 million inpatient procedures. This estimate draws attention to the human toll of disparities in surgical outcomes, with Black patients being 42% more likely and Hispanic patients 21% more likely to die after surgery compared to white patients.

This research represents the first effort to move beyond merely documenting the ongoing disparities in surgical outcomes in the U.S. by quantifying their total human toll, said Christian Mpody, M.D., Ph.D., MBA, lead author of the study and assistant professor of anesthesiology and pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, Columbus.

Unless efforts to narrow the racial and ethnic gap in surgical outcomes intensify, preventable deaths will continue among minority patients, the researchers said. The development of equity policies to address disparity gaps can make a difference; a 2% reduction in projected excess mortality rates among Black patients would avert roughly 3,000 post-surgery deaths in the next decade, researchers determined.

While the study didn’t assess the effectiveness of specific interventions or policies, researchers noted that addressing the problem requires an extensive approach including investment in disparity research, cultural competency training for health professionals and prioritizing patient education and health literacy.

Virtual reality reduces anxiety among caregivers of children having surgery

Virtual reality (VR) may be an effective and reliable tool to alleviate the anxiety experienced by most parents or caregivers when their child undergoes surgery, a study found. By providing family-centered care, researchers aimed to treat not just the patient, but also caregivers, 74% of whom experience quite a bit of anxiety before, during and after their child’s surgery, said Thomas J. Caruso, M.D., Ph.D., FASA, senior author of the study and clinical professor of anesthesiology, perioperative and pain medicine at Stanford University, California. The findings demonstrated a significant reduction in anxiety when using VR, compared to the standard of care.

Immersive technologies, such as VR, offer new, non-pharmacologic treatment options for anxiety relief. Given the diminishing costs of VR and its commercial availability, the results of this study suggest that hospitals seeking to provide family-centered care may consider VR as an effective, anxiety-relieving option for parents or caregivers.

Learn more about the importance of physician-led anesthesia care, preparing for surgery and the latest advances in the specialty. Visit: https://www.asahq.org/madeforthismoment/.