OBJECTIVE--To assess the quality of anaesthesia care from the patients' viewpoint compared with the hospital record. DESIGN--Prospective study during 1988-9. SETTING--Four teaching hospitals (A-D) in Canada. PATIENTS--15,960 inpatients receiving anaesthetic requiring at least an overnight stay, for whom an interview and review of hospital records within 72 hours of surgery were complete. MAIN MEASURES--Rates of postoperative symptoms of discomfort (nausea or vomiting, headache, back pain, sore throat, eye symptoms, and tingling) according to the hospital record versus interview and the relation between symptoms and patients' satisfaction with the anaesthetic experience. RESULTS--The preparation of completed interviews ranged from 31.0% to 72.7%, owing mainly to patients discharge (hospitals A and B) and severity of illness (C and D). Interviewed patients were similar to all inpatients in the hospitals but were younger and healthier and more had had effective operations and were general surgical than cardiovascular or neurosurgical patients. In all, 26% to 46% of patients at the four hospitals reported at least one symptom of discomfort. Agreement between interviews and hospital records was low, symptoms being more commonly reported by interview than in the record (for example, headache was reported for 5.8%-17% of patients compared with 0.3%-3.0% in hospital records). After controlling for case mix patients who reported at least one symptom were 2.91 times (95% confidence interval 1.89 to 4.50) more likely to be dissatisfied with their anaesthetic care than patients who did not. CONCLUSIONS--Anaesthesia services are typically neglected in studies of hospital quality, yet patients express considerable anxiety about anaesthetic care. Monitoring and recording patients' discomfort clearly need to be improved if the quality of anaesthesia is to be properly evaluated.
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