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Year : 2013  |  Volume : 7  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 58-64  

Current understanding of the literate versus illiterate patient's knowledge about anesthesiologists: A comparative study

Department of Anaesthesiology Himalayan Institute of Medical Sciences, HIHT University, Swami Ram Nagar, Dehradun, India

Date of Web Publication26-Jun-2013

Correspondence Address:
Parul Jindal
Department of Anaesthesiology, Pain Management and ICU, Himalayan Institute of Medical Sciences, Jolly Grant, Dehradun
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0259-1162.113994

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Context: There is a widespread ignorance among the public about the role of anesthesiologists and their responsibilities inside or outside the operating room both in developed and developing countries.
Aims: The present study was conducted to assess the knowledge of literate and illiterate patient about the role of anesthesiologists and their concerns regarding anesthesiology.
Setting and Design: This is a prospective study conducted in a preoperative anesthetic clinic of a large tertiary care hospital. The study consisted of a standard preanesthetic interview and questionnaire.
Materials and Methods : After obtaining permission from the Ethics committee, patients in the age group 18-75 years of either sex undergoing elective surgery were included.The patients were divided into two groups on the basis of their education: Group A: included patient who are illiterate; Group B: included patients who are literate, completed a questionnaire, which was later evaluated.
Statistical Analysis Used: Unpaired t test and correlation r test were used.
Results: There was limited knowledge among both literates and illiterates regarding the perioperative role of anesthesiologists. They wanted to be fully explained about the anesthesiology technique and were keen to meet their anesthesiologist both before and after the surgery.
Conclusion: To eliminate the ignorance among general public regarding the role of anesthesiologists, efforts must be made to educate and generate awareness among the population.

Keywords: Anesthesiology, attitude, illiterate, knowledge, literate

How to cite this article:
Jindal P, Khurana G, Bharadwaj A, Mallik S, Oberoi D. Current understanding of the literate versus illiterate patient's knowledge about anesthesiologists: A comparative study. Anesth Essays Res 2013;7:58-64

How to cite this URL:
Jindal P, Khurana G, Bharadwaj A, Mallik S, Oberoi D. Current understanding of the literate versus illiterate patient's knowledge about anesthesiologists: A comparative study. Anesth Essays Res [serial online] 2013 [cited 2022 May 19];7:58-64. Available from:

   Introduction Top

An anesthesiologist's contribution to patient care intraoperatively has now extended from the operating room to the periphery, intensive care, and pain management. From our experiences, we have observed that the stature of anesthesiologists is low in comparison with other specialists. Studies conducted round the world have revealed that there is a general misconception that anesthesiologists are not physicians but most of the studies were conducted on literate and urbane subjects. [1],[2],[3],[4],[5],[6] It is believed that education imparts knowledge and increases the curiosity of a person to know more. With the advent of easy access to internet and increasing role of media, it was assumed that the literate patients are more oriented and have more knowledge of anesthesiology and an anesthesiologist.

The aim of this study was to compare and assess the knowledge and attitude of literate and illiterates regarding an anesthesiologist.

   Materials and Methods Top

After taking permission from the Institutional Ethics committee, this cross-sectional study was conducted on 510 patients who visited the preanesthetic clinic over a period of 3 months.

A pilot study was under taken in 15 individuals to ensure that the questionnaire could easily be understood and, if required, any modification in the questionnaire could be made before proceeding for the study further these patients were also included in the study.

The study size was ascertained after reviewing the existing data as most of the studies [2],[3],[4] have taken a sample size of 200 further as the total duration of study was 04 months that include data collection (02 months), compilation, and analysis. The total numbers of patients who filled the questionnaire were 510 but after eliminating the incompletely filled forms, the investigator finally analyzed the sample of 445 patients. The patients were divided into two groups on the basis of their education: Group A (n = 217) included patient who were educated till at least matriculation and could write either in Hindi and English, whereas Group B (n = 228) included patients who were illiterate.

Patients who did not understand Hindi or English, were hard of hearing or had abnormal mental status, and were medical or paramedical staff were excluded from the survey.

Patients were verbally asked whether they would complete the questionnaire and if agreed upon were given the question sheet. The participants were explained that their participation in the study is totally voluntary and their responses will be kept confidential. A questionnaire comprising 16 questions [Annexure 1] prepared in both Hindi and English was given to the patients with each question verbally explained as patients in Group B were illiterate.

The questionnaire had three parts. The first part of the questionnaire was about demographic information. The second part of the questionnaire was designed to assess the knowledge regarding an anesthesiologist. The third part of the study was based on assessment regarding anesthesiology and anesthesiology techniques.

Descriptive statistics (mean, standard deviation, range) were used to summarize patient's demographic data and operative details. The statistical analysis was done using two sample unpaired t test and the correlation r test.

   Results Top

Demographic profile

The study included 445 patients belonging to the age group 18-76 years. Of the 445 respondents, 252 (56.5%) were males and 193 (43.5%) were females. The profession of the subjects ranged from unemployment to the noble profession of teaching. There was no statistical difference in the demographic data between the two groups [Table 1]. The various specialty Outpatient Departments (OPD's) being attended by the subjects are shown in [Table 2]. On enquiring, only 26.5% (118) patients from above specialities knew why they were referred to the preanaesthetic check-up clinic (PAC clinic).
Table 1: Demographic profile of the patients

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Table 2: Distribution of patients according to the specialty OPDs they attended

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Knowledge of anesthesiologists

A total of 32.3% patients had a previous surgical and anesthetic exposure, of which 126 (87.5%) could recall the name of the operating surgeon while a meager 32 (22.2%) could remember the name of the anesthesiologist. There was significant a difference: Patients in Group A could recall the name of the anesthesiologist of the last surgery, while very few patients in Group B could recollect the name of the anesthesiologist [Table 3].
Table 3: Previous anesthetic exposure

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Only 93 (20.8%) knew that anesthesiologists were medically qualified doctors, 91 (20.4%) subjects thought anesthesiologist was nursing staff, while 87 (19.5%) believed that anesthesiologists were actually assistant to surgeon, whereas 133 (29.8%) had no clue regarding the identity of the anesthesiologist [Table 4]. No statistically significant correlation was found between education and the knowledge regarding anesthesiologists. Regarding the knowledge of the working area of the anesthesiologist, 211 (47.5%) responded correctly stating that they work in operating room. There was no significant difference between the two groups ( P > 0.05) with concern to their knowledge regarding the role of anesthesiologist outside the operating room [Table 4].
Table 4: Identity and work profile of the anesthesiologist

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Knowledge about type of anesthesiology

On asking what are the various methods by which a patient is anaesthetized, most of the people knew about commonly used methods of administering anesthesiology like general anesthesiology (287 (64.5%)) and regional anesthesiology (133 (29.8%)). More subjects in Group A were aware of regional anesthesiology than subjects in Group B [Table 5].
Table 5: Knowledge regarding type of anesthesiology techniques in practice

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Patient's concerns regarding anesthesiology and its management had multiple responses. A majority of the subjects (284 (63.8%)) were more concerned about the complications and outcomes of surgery as opposed to 29 (0.06%) who were worried about anesthesiology. There was a significant difference ( P < 0.05) among the two groups regarding the outcome of anesthesiology; subjects in Group A were more concerned about awareness during surgery while respondents in Group B were more worried about not waking up. There was no significant difference ( P < 0.05) in voicing their concern about pain during operative period (64.4%) [Table 6].
Table 6: Major concern regarding anesthesiology and its outcomes

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There was a unanimous decision among both the group in that they wanted to know about all the complications associated with the anesthesiology technique. The majority (63.51%) felt that a surgeon is responsible for the outcome of surgery [Table 7].
Table 7: Responses on whether who is responsible for outcome of surgery and should anesthesiology complications be discussed

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An overwhelming 41.3% responded that the anesthesiology technique, its advantages, and disadvantages have been explained clearly to them. But it was disheartening to observe that given a chance a meager of 13.2% would like to choose their anesthesiologist as they trusted the surgeon more [Table 8]. 40% (Group A) and 22% (Group B) believed that co-morbid conditions could be a risk for surgery (overall 31%).
Table 8: Response on whether they would like to choose anesthesiology in future and how procedure has been explained

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   Discussion Top

The lack of data co-relating the level of literacy and awareness of the population about anesthesiologist and their contribution encouraged us to conduct this study. Several studies conducted both internationally [2],[3],[7],[8],[9],[10],[11],[12],[13],[14] and in India [4],[5],[6],[15] have showed varying results regarding the knowledge of general public about anesthesiologists and their role in surgery. In developed countries, the percentage of subjects who knew about anesthesiologist ranged from 70% to 90% and those in developing countries ranged from 18% to 89%. But our study showed that only 34% of the population knew that an anesthesiologist is a trained doctor [Table 9].
Table 9: International and national studies depicting the percentage of patients who knew anesthesiologist was a doctor

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In previous studies, the survey was conducted in advanced hospitals in metropolitan cities which cater to the people from higher socio-economic group, people living in urban environment, having exposure to media that may have influenced their responses. Our survey was conducted on people from both high and low socio-economic groups and coming from urban and rural backgrounds.

Most of the subjects believed that anesthesiologist were assistants to surgeon (24.5%) and worked in operating rooms (61%); this may be because in our country the surgeons enjoy an unparallel status of demigod. Applying simple mathematics that surgery is performed in operating rooms and anesthesiology is given before surgery, the respondents may have assumed that an anesthesiologist works in operating rooms and is thus an assistant to surgeon. As observed in other studies, [4],[5] the female anesthesiologists are often mistaken for nursing staff; this study too confirms the belief that general public thinks that anesthesiologists are nursing staff, as 22.5% of the respondents believed that anesthesiologists were nurses. A high percentage of participants (17%) were not sure who an anesthesiologist is and 23% did not know about their place of work.

Generally, a previous experience should increase the knowledge of a person but to our disappointment, we observed that 32.3% subjects had undergone previous surgery and anesthetic exposure out of which 87.5% remembered the name of their surgeon but only 32% remembered the name of the anesthesiologist. This can be explained due to the lack of good interaction between the anesthesiologist and the patient. This lack of interaction could be because of time constraints mostly in relation to operating theatre overload that the preoperative visits are rushed.

In some countries, a small booklet describing the role of anesthesiologists is given at the time of admission. Again giving handouts and brochure to illiterate patients does not serve the purpose and patients always prefer personal touch. [16] There are recommendations that the patient can be shown a video about perioperative care. [9] These methods may be extremely helpful but cannot substitute the direct patient contact or the personal touch the patients prefer. On some occasions, the anesthesiologist and the patient meet for the first time in the theatre as the person doing PAC and the one giving anesthesiologists are different and at times in a busy hospital like ours, the patient rush is extreme in the preanesthetic clinic that giving personal attention to the patient becomes difficult. In our institute, we have set a time aside a day prior to surgery where we interact with the patient to explain the details of anesthetic procedure, discuss their preference of anesthesiology, and allay their anxiety.

It was astonishing to see how much the patients entrusted their surgeons, as 63.5% believed that surgeons were responsible for the outcome of surgery and only 6% believed that the anesthesiologist were in-charge of their well-being in a perioperative period.

The majority of subjects in both the groups (66% in Group A and 75% in Group B) preferred general anesthesiology over regional anesthesiology as in other studies. [6],[15] Even though the fear of intraoperative pain and not waking up was rampant among illiterates, the fear of backache and long-term weakness and disability due to regional anesthesiology was profound. These fears about regional anesthesiology were mainly due to misinformation the subject had from his own experience or from hearing tales of a friend or relative. This finding highlights the misconceptions the general population has about anesthesiology and an anesthesiologist and also makes us aware of their source of information and beliefs.

We observed that the major preoperative concern was different among the two groups; illiterate were more concerned about not waking up after surgery (41%) and having pain 51%, but among the literates the main concerns were pain (67%), both during and after surgery, and intraoperative awareness (39%) which is similar to studies previously done in both developing and developed countries. As the aforementioned concerns of the subjects are due to lack of knowledge about the anesthesiologist and the work they do, proper education and communication will reduce the unnecessary fears and increase the cooperation of the patients' perioperatively. In both the groups, the patients who had undergone previous surgeries were as concerned about perioperative complication as subjects undergoing surgery for the first time. This is in contrast to the study by Gurunathan et al.,[4] who observed that patients with previous anesthetic/surgical exposure had decreased anxiety. There was no statistically significant difference among the sexes in expressing their fear like in other studies. [4]

Another disturbing fact which was revealed in this study was that on asking whether the participants would like to choose their anesthesiologist in future or had any preference for any particular anesthesiologist, the responses were discouraging.

Every culture has their own set of beliefs, but in this study we observed the misconception about the concerned branch was the same among people from different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. Education of either health care personnel who enjoy enviable creditability with patients may improve the present scenario.

We often blame the surgeon that they do not explain the patient about our role and contribution in the surgery but isn't it true that we are satisfied living in the shadow of the surgeons. Maybe because of excessive workload we do not bother about improving our status, but the authors feel that we should now try to carve a niche for ourselves. We need to specifically address the patients concern regarding anesthesiology technique, course, role of anesthesiologist intra- and post-operatively. As suggested by Mittal et al., educating in hospital patients who form an important group of public can improve the image of the anesthesiologist. [5] In Indian scenario, personal experiences of the patients tend to influence the thinking of their friends and relatives. Educational efforts during the pre-anesthetic examination can be supplemented with other modalities like newspaper, magazine, television, radio, and internet.

   Conclusion Top

This survey has identified a number of deficiencies in public knowledge about the role of anesthesiologists. We are involved in increasing numbers of areas of anesthesia care and should be proud of different roles we have. Therefore, we advocate better communication with the patient.

   Acknowledgment Top

We would like to express our gratitude to Dr. Pradeep Agarwal and Dr. J.P Sharma for their advice and guidance.

   References Top

1.Ahsan Ul Haq M, Azim W, Mubeen M. A survey of patients' awareness about the peri-operative role of anaesthesiologists. Biomedica 2004;20:5-9.  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Hariharan S. Knowledge and attitudes of patients towards anaesthesiology and anesthesiologists. A Review. Anestesia en Mexico 2009;21:174-8.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Keep PJ, Jenkins JR. As others see us. The patient's view of the anaesthesiologist. Anaesthesiology 1978;33:43-5.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.Gurunathan U, Jacob R. The public's perception of anaesthesiologists- Indian attitudes. Indian J Anesth 2004;48:456-60.  Back to cited text no. 4
5.Mittal MK, Sethi AK, Tyagi A, Mohta M. awareness about anaesthesiologist and the scope of anaesthesiology in Non-surgical patients and their attendants. Indian J Anaesth 2005;49:492-8.  Back to cited text no. 5
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7.Herman CR. An appraisal of anaesthesiologist-patient relationship. Anaesthesiology 1978;33:45-8.  Back to cited text no. 7
8.Deusch E, Weber T, Libal G, Christian L, Ofner C. Patient knowledge concerning anaesthesiology general practice and the responsibilities of the anaesthesiologist. Anasthesiol Intensivmed Notfallmed Schmerzther 1996;31:409-13.  Back to cited text no. 8
9.Irwin MG, Soon NT, Fung SK. A profile of anaesthesiology trainees in Hong Kong. Hong Kong Med J 2001;7:227-35.  Back to cited text no. 9
10.Khan FA, Hassen S, Zaidi A. Patients' view of the anaesthesiologists in a developing country. J Pak Med Assoc 1999;49:4-7.   Back to cited text no. 10
11. Kindler CH, Harms C, Alber C. The patients' perception of the anaesthesiologist in a Swiss university hospital. Anaesthesist 2002;51:890-6.  Back to cited text no. 11
12.Tohmo H, Pälve H, Illman H. The work, duties and prestige of Finnish anesthesiologists: patients' view. Acta Anaesthesiol Scand 2003;47:664-6.  Back to cited text no. 12
13.Calman LM, MichalacheA, Evron S, Ezri T. Current understanding of the patient's attitude toward the anaesthesiologist's role and practice in Israel: effect of the patient's experience. J Clin Anaesthesiol 2003;15:451-4.  Back to cited text no. 13
14.Baaj J, Takrouri MS, Hussein BM, Al Ayyaf H. Saudi patients' knowledge and attitude toward anaesthesiology and anesthesiologists-A prospective cross-sectional interview questionnaire. Middle East J Anesthesiol 2006;18:679-91.  Back to cited text no. 14
15.Mathur SK, Dube SK, Jain S. Knowledge about anaesthesiology and anaesthesiologist amongst general population in india. Indian J Anaesth 2009;53:179-86.  Back to cited text no. 15
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16.Swinhoe CF, Groves ER. Patients' knowledge of anaesthetic practice and the role of anaesthesiologist. Anaesthesiology 1994;49:165-6.  Back to cited text no. 16


  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4], [Table 5], [Table 6], [Table 7], [Table 8], [Table 9]

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