Pediatric Anesthesia Chief Comments on Alarming Statistic

Duke Anesthesiology’s Dr. Allison Ross weighs-in on a new study that reveals a startling statistic – more than 10 million children in the United States don’t live near a pediatric anesthesiologist, a physician who specializes in sedating children and caring for them during surgery and other procedures.

While not involved in the study, Dr. Ross, chief of the department’s Pediatric Anesthesia Division at Duke University Medical Center, was featured in articles published by Reuters, FOX News and Yahoo! News on January 3 for her insight about its findings that show nearly 15 percent of children in the nation live more than 50 miles from a pediatric anesthesiologist. That number includes more than 2.7 million children under the age of five – the group that needs these specialists the most, according to the American College of Surgeons.

“Younger children have physical and emotional needs that obviously differ from adults. Their anatomy and physiology, particularly under anesthesia, change in ways that are unlike anesthetized adult patients,” says Dr. Ross, a professor of anesthesiology and pediatrics who cares for patients at Duke Children’s Hospital and Health Center and is actively involved in research regarding the sedation of children who are mentally challenged.

The study also shows that 90 percent of pediatric anesthesiologists work in urban areas (defined by the study’s authors as counties with more than 50,000 young children). And, that 71 percent of children live within 25 miles of a pediatric anesthesiologist.

New guidelines from the American College of Surgeons state that small children who need more serious medical care should be treated by pediatric anesthesiologists who have a special certification to work with children. Pediatric anesthesiologists not only sedate children for surgery, but also for procedures like body scans to help young children stay still. They also monitor the heart rates and other health measures of sedated children.

While Dr. Ross stresses the importance of specialized training, she notes that in areas without trained pediatric anesthesiologists, medical facilities are likely to have staff with a lot of experience treating children.

“It is important to realize that it is often more important in an emergency to be taken to the nearest facility for care rather than to delay care due to a desire to be in a pediatric facility, depending on the nature of the event or the medical condition of the child,” notes Dr. Ross.