Colonoscopy patients may not need anesthesia

 
By Carrie Johnson Weimar O'Brien • Published: June 11th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat
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How far under does a patient need to be during a colonoscopy? As health care costs continue to skyrocket, it’s a question more and more doctors are asking. New research suggests that a growing number of patients are opting for full anesthesia when undergoing this relatively simple procedure. Some doctors are speaking out in hopes of reversing this trend, which they say is unnecessary and wastes money.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA, just 14 percent of patients had an anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist during a colonoscopy in 2003. By 2009, that number had climbed to more than 30 percent.

This is no trivial matter: If anesthesia services were used for all 20-million endoscopies and colonoscopies performed each year, it would cost 8 billion dollars. This cost is typically paid by insurance companies, who pass it on to their customers. Or, for those who don’t use private insurance, the tab gets picked up by Medicare.

In some cases, doctors recommend patients be put under full sedation for a colonoscopy. But the JAMA study showed the majority of patients were healthy and didn’t have a condition that required anesthesia. Most patients would be just fine taking moderate sedatives, which would also create fewer risks than anesthesia.

So, what’s the solution? Some are saying the costs need to move from the insurance companies to the patients. If a healthy patient who doesn’t require anesthesia wants it, he should be willing to pay a little extra for the procedure, or so the thinking goes. One thing’s for sure: Doctors don’t want to do anything to discourage colonoscopies, which are an important early detector of cancer. So just make sure to talk to your doctor before your procedure. Find out which level of sedation is the best fit for you.