By Bonnie Walker, allied health world contributing writer
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What is anesthesia technology?
The applied use of anesthesia technology is central to the routine and effective practice of modern medicine. Anesthesia is used to render patients unaware and insensitive to pain prior to surgery or other potentially distressing and invasive procedures. The use of anesthetic agents enables patients to undergo these procedures without enduring the severe pain and trauma they would otherwise experience if they remained awake and aware. Anesthesia technology is a delicate and measured science given that anesthesia must be administered in precise amounts and in accordance with strict guidelines so as to successfully anesthetize patients in a way that is safe and free of complications. Anesthesia is truly a boon, one of the fundamental elements of modern medical practice. The advent of anesthesia truly revolutionized the practice of medicine, in terms of both treatment and diagnosis.
Through anesthesia, it is possible to temporarily control or block receptors in the nervous system responsible for normal sensations, including the sensation of pain. This state, in which the patient is insensitive to pain, is known as analgesia. Depending on the type of anesthesia administered, a patient may also experience a reversible decrease or loss in stress response, conscious responsiveness, and skeleton-muscular reflexes. General anesthesia almost always induces a state of temporary amnesia in which the patient retains no memory of what occurred while under, although his or her ability to recall what occurred before and after anesthesia was administered is not affected. In addition to suppressing pain and responsiveness, anesthetic agents can also contribute to the control and regulation of respiration, heart rate and rhythm, and blood pressure during medical and surgical procedures.
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What is the role of anesthesia technicians and technologists?
Anesthesia technicians and technologists work as part of a team that also includes anesthesiologists and anesthesia assistants and perform their duties under the supervision of licensed anesthesiologists. These specially trained healthcare professionals have a thorough knowledge of various anesthetic agents, as well as extensive skill in using and maintaining anesthesia instruments, equipment, and supplies. Anesthesiology technicians work in surgical and clinical care settings, including operating rooms, intensive care units, obstetrics departments and delivery rooms, post-anesthesia care units, emergency rooms, dental offices, ambulatory surgery departments, research laboratories, endoscopy clinics, diagnostic units including radiology departments, and catheterization laboratories.
Anesthesia technologists assist anesthesiologists and other health care providers in delivering anesthesia into the circulatory or respiratory systems of their patients. Administering anesthesia may involve the use of one or more of a number of different anesthetic agents that have different effects. Anesthesia technicians and technologists assist in administering general and local anesthesia, as well as monitored anesthesia care (MAC) and regional anesthesia. They obtain, prepare, apply, and maintain the equipment and materials necessary for safe and effective administration. This includes monitoring both the patient and the anesthesia delivery system at all stages of the process; before, during, and after the anesthesia is administered.
Administering anesthesia to a patient involves a number of steps, all of which must be performed carefully and to exact specifications in order to ensure the proper dose is administered so that the patient suffers no ill effect as a result. The primary function of anesthesia technicians and technologists is to provide support to anesthesiologists, who are physicians that specialize in the proper application of anesthetic agents in a medical setting. Although they do not administer anesthesia themselves, anesthesia technicians and technologists perform duties that are essential to delivering these medications to patients safely and effectively.
What are the different types of anesthesia?
General anesthetic agents suppress nervous system activity in the brain, rendering the patient unaware, insensate, and effectively unconscious. The patient retains no memory of events that occur while the general anesthesia has effect. General anesthesia is typically used during major surgery and other invasive procedures that would cause extreme pain and anxiety to the patient if he or she were awake. Delivering the proper amount of anesthesia that will suppress the patient’s consciousness and sensation without dangerously suppressing respiration and heart rate requires care and attention. Body weight and other physical factors must be taken into account, and anesthesia technicians must carefully calibrate anesthesia equipment and monitor vital signs while the patient is under the influence of general anesthesia.
Local anesthetic agents suppress sensation in the specific part of body in which it is applied and in the immediate surrounding area. Such agents may be delivered by needle injection or, less frequently, through topical application. Patients remain aware and awake after the administration of local anesthesia; only the localized area surrounding the point of anesthesia application is affected. The experience of being treated with local anesthesia is frequently described as producing a numbing feeling. Local anesthesia is commonly used in dental offices for minor but potentially painful procedures such as cavity filling, tooth removal, and basic oral surgery. It is also frequently used in emergency rooms prior to the suturing of open wounds.
Regional anesthesia blocks sensation to a larger area of the body than local anesthetic agents do. It accomplishes this by preventing the transmission of nerve impulses between that area of the body and the spinal cord. A commonly referenced example of regional anesthesia is an epidural, an injection administered into the spine of a pregnant woman during labor. An epidural relieves some of the pain of childbirth by dulling sensation to the lower part of the body while still permitting the mother-to-be to assist in the delivery by pushing.
Dissociative anesthesia suppresses the transmission of impulses between the brain’s cerebral cortex and the brain’s lower centers, including the structures of the limbic system. Although it blocks pain impulses, dissociative anesthesia, unlike general anesthesia, does not render the patient completely insensate. Instead, it instills deep relaxation and places the patient in a state similar to a trance. The patient’s eyes may remain open while under the influence of dissociative anesthesia, but he or she feels no pain and generally retains no memory of the procedure. The advantage of dissociative anesthesia is that it both takes effect and wears off much more quickly than general anesthesia. Dissociative anesthesia also poses fewer risks than general anesthesia when administered to children, elderly individuals, and patients with unstable vital signs and low blood pressure. Consequently, it is particularly appropriate for use in procedures performed on trauma victims and in brief procedures, such as bandage changes, that may nonetheless be distressing and painful to the patient. Ketamine is the most commonly used dissociative anesthetic agent and is administered through an IV or intramuscular injection.
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