Anesthesia is necessary for surgery; however, it does not deliver any direct therapeutic benefit. The risks of anesthesia must therefore be as low as possible.
Anesthesiology has been identified as a leader in improving patient safety. Anesthetic mortality has decreased, and in healthy patients can be as low as 1:250,000. Trends in anesthetic morbidity have not been as well defined, but it appears that the risk of injury is decreasing. Studies of error during anesthesia and Closed Claims studies have identified sources of risk and methods to reduce the risks associated with anesthesia. These include changes in technology, such as anesthetic delivery systems and monitors, the application of human factors, the use of simulation, and the establishment of reporting systems.
Richard Botney reviews the important events in the past 50 years that illustrates the many steps that have contributed to the improvements in anesthesia safety.