Earlier this year, 2017 Rovenstine Lecturer Lee A. Fleisher, M.D., received a letter from a patient asking what was going on at Penn’s anesthesia department. Both she and her friend, the letter writer said, had been uncomfortably delirious after their surgeries. No definitive answer could be given to this patient except to say that her temporary neuropsychiatric changes might have been caused by anything from anesthesia, to surgery, to simply the natural course of disease.

According to Dr. Fleisher, it was very clear, though, that the patient and her friend were not adequately prepared for all the potential side-effects of surgery.

“In the past, we’ve focused mainly on traditional medical outcomes such as infections and complications like pneumonia and heart attack,” Dr. Fleisher said. “Where we’re going now is what patients care about. People don’t care whether we...

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