CEO Report: A New Message in the Air

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September 1, 2013 Volume 77, Number 9
CEO Report: A New Message in the Air Paul Pomerantz

As I read each feature article in this issue devoted to airway management, I was struck with one overriding impression: physician anesthesiologists responsible for managing a patient’s airway and setting the standards for such procedures are at the absolute pinnacle of a complex and demanding craft.

Contained in this NEWSLETTER are anecdotes and stories from physician experts in procedures that relatively few are qualified to perform. Advances in education, technology and research have helped ensure that even the most precarious patients can undergo high-risk surgery in the safest manner possible.

Airway management is one of those skills that, for better or worse, becomes taken for granted when its practitioners become experts at it. The same thing happens every time we drive across a suspension bridge, fly in an airliner or drink tap water. But we sure realize how important such quiet expertise is when it’s gone.

Management of the airway might be the perfect example of a skill that physician anesthesiologists routinely and safely perform, but is not widely recognized or appreciated by the public or those who vote in legislation and create policies in health care.

I wrote about the public’s perception of the specialty in my April 2013 column, but we’ve begun to make strides in this area since then. ASA recently completed extensive research and message testing to gain insight into perceptions about our specialty. We found that the majority of those polled – including policymakers – were unaware that physician anesthesiologists were the experts at skills such as airway management and that they, quite literally, keep patients alive during surgery. In fact, an overwhelming majority of respondents were unaware that anesthesiologists were, in fact, physicians.

Although, as a specialty, we clearly have a perception problem, we did find much to be optimistic about. When asked what they were most concerned about in their care, patients and policymakers remarked, by a 9-to-1 margin, that the quality and safety of their care was the most important consideration during medical procedures. And regarding that quality care, physicians had a 3-to-1 advantage in credibility over non-physician providers.

ASA staff and many Society members are currently bringing a new education initiative to stakeholders across the nation to reinforce the specific message that when seconds count, physician anesthesiologists save lives. It’s important for the public, patients and policymakers to know that – despite great progress in patient safety – surgery remains a complicated and potentially dangerous endeavor. When seconds count, when a life hangs in the balance, physician anesthesiologists draw upon their extensive medical education, years of clinical training and experience to make critical decisions that save lives. We know this, and our peers know this. ASA is committed to ensuring that the public and our legislators know and understand it, too.

No matter what your specialty is, you remain anesthesiology’s strongest and most influential advocate. Each of you has a personal story to tell that can help change how anesthesiology is perceived by the public and in Washington, D.C. We need you to share your stories with us – stories that offer undeniable evidence of your critical importance to patient safety and quality care. Tell us about a life, or lives, you’ve saved in the course of your career.

You can share your stories by emailing or visit to submit your story online.

Your stories will appear on ASA’s website and will be a critical component of ASA’s new education initiative. Telling us your story is just the beginning. We also need you to help spread this message. As such, ASA is offering six sessions of its Leadership Spokesperson Training Program (LSTP) during the ANESTHESIOLOGY™ 2013 annual meeting in San Francisco. The LSTP is open to ASA members only and addresses media training as well as key messaging and storytelling development. To find out more or to register for the complimentary training, please send an email to

There is no more powerful message than the reality of what you do as physician anesthesiologists every day. Yours is the story that will help to affect policy, and millions of lives, now and far into the future.

Paul Pomerantz is ASA’s Chief Executive Officer.