Background

Perioperative pulmonary aspiration of gastric contents has been associated with severe morbidity and death. The primary aim of this study was to identify outcomes and patient and process of care risk factors associated with gastric aspiration claims in the Anesthesia Closed Claims Project. The secondary aim was to assess these claims for appropriateness of care. The hypothesis was that these data could suggest opportunities to reduce either the risk or severity of perioperative pulmonary aspiration.

Methods

Inclusion criteria were anesthesia malpractice claims in the American Society of Anesthesiologists Closed Claims Project that were associated with surgical, procedural, or obstetric anesthesia care with the year of the aspiration event 2000 to 2014. Claims involving pulmonary aspiration were identified and assessed for patient and process factors that may have contributed to the aspiration event and outcome. The standard of care was assessed for each claim.

Results

Aspiration of gastric contents accounted for 115 of the 2,496 (5%) claims in the American Society of Anesthesiologists Closed Claims Project that met inclusion criteria. Death directly related to pulmonary aspiration occurred in 66 of the 115 (57%) aspiration claims. Another 16 of the 115 (14%) claims documented permanent severe injury. Seventy of the 115 (61%) patients who aspirated had either gastrointestinal obstruction or another acute intraabdominal process. Anesthetic management was judged to be substandard in 62 of the 115 (59%) claims.

Conclusions

Death and permanent severe injury were common outcomes of perioperative pulmonary aspiration of gastric contents in this series of closed anesthesia malpractice claims. The majority of the patients who aspirated had either gastrointestinal obstruction or acute intraabdominal processes. Anesthesia care was frequently judged to be substandard. These findings suggest that clinical practice modifications to preoperative assessment and anesthetic management of patients at risk for pulmonary aspiration may lead to improvement of their perioperative outcomes.

Editor’s Perspective
What We Already Know about This Topic
  • Perioperative pulmonary aspiration of gastric contents has been, and continues to be, associated with severe morbidity and death in spite of recent advances in relevant guidelines and airway management

What This Article Tells Us That Is New
  • In a closed claims analysis of 115 cases of pulmonary aspiration, death occurred in 57% of the claims and severe permanent injury in another 14%

  • Sixty-one percent of the patients in the claims had either gastrointestinal obstruction or another intraabdominal process

  • Anesthetic practice was judged to be substandard in 59% of the 115 claims

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