Drs. Mark Warner of the Mayo Clinic and Terri Monk of the Duke University Medical Center said the absence of such definitions has major implications for anesthesiology research and practice, as well as for public perceptions of anesthesia care.
The physicians said the lack of standard definitions raises doubts about data used to inform clinical practice.
"Any person speaking on perioperative care really can influence the audience based on how the outcomes are defined," said Warner. "If you're going to present outcomes and make broad statements about patient safety or any number of other issues, you have to give some context about how you define those outcomes."
The physicians presented their argument in an editorial accompanying a new study showing wide variations in the definition of reductions in blood pressure during surgery, or intraoperative hypotension, or IOH.
"For example, without standard definitions of IOH, you could say that anesthesia is either very dangerous or that it's extraordinarily safe," said Warner.
Warner and Monk present their arguments in the August issue of the journal Anesthesiology.
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