Besides, this case isn't about patient safety, or even access to care. It's about money.
The savings in compensation costs and the money generated by additional procedures could be considerable for rural hospitals. Merritt Hawkins & Associates, the Dallas, TX-based national physician recruiting firm, says that first-year financial packages for anesthesiologists range from $275,000 to $350,000, while CRNAs earn around $200,000.
"Obviously the return on investment is there. It's a simpler search. There are more CRNAs in the marketplace than there are anesthesiologists," says Sam A. Karam, division vice president for Merritt Hawkins. "From a sheer dollars-and-cents standpoint it always makes sense to have CRNAs. Now, that is the main reason we have seen CRNAs being more in demand."
Karam says anesthesiologists were once among the most-highly sought after medical specialists. That is no longer the case.
"From a demand perspective, is it difficult to find anesthesiologists today? No. That's a stark change from just a few years ago when the demand for them was extremely high," he says. "You will find some that actually aren't even working in permanent positions. They're working locum jobs to stay afloat."
CRNAs are not the main reason for the slowing demand for anesthesiologists. Larger factors, including the long-sputtering economy and the anticipated changes that will come with healthcare reform, have "flip-flopped" market demand away from specialists and towards primary care docs.