Sep 27, 2010 5:46 PM by Greg Boyce

Governor Ritter changes rules on anesthesia

Gov. Bill Ritter announced Monday that Colorado will opt out of a federal Medicare rule that requires physician supervision in rural hospitals for certified registered nurse anesthetists. Colorado will join 15 other states - many of them large, Western and rural - that have opted out of the rule since it became an option in 2001.

According to Ritter, the greater flexibility allows hospitals to give certified registered nurse anesthetists who have at least a master's degree in anesthesiology,  greater responsibility for patients. In rural areas without specialized doctors, it is becoming increasingly common for highly-skilled and well-trained nurses to take on greater responsibilities for patient care.

"Patient safety is and must always be one of our highest priorities," Gov. Ritter said. "This decision upholds that core value while giving rural hospitals the flexibility they need to provide their rural patients with access to high-quality healthcare."

Certified registered nurse anesthetists provide 70 percent of all anesthesia care in rural U.S. counties. Colorado's rural hospitals rely heavily on them to provide anesthesia services.

Over the summer, Gov. Ritter asked the Colorado Medical Board and Colorado Board of Nursing to examine the issue and recommend whether Colorado should opt out of the federal rule.  After soliciting significant input from stakeholders - including physicians, hospitals and nurses - both boards determined it would be in the best interest of Colorado residents to opt out.

Anesthesiologists fought the proposal, saying it would put lives at risk.  Rural hospitals without anesthesiologists currently allow nurse specialists to administer anesthesia under a doctor's supervision.  However, they say doctors are wary of taking on that responsibility.




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