Not enough: Wilmington widow calls for stricter dental anesthesia rules after proposed changes

After the state dental board proposed changes to its existing anesthesia and sedation rules, the woman pushing for those changes is sharing her thoughts.
Shital
Shital Patel (Photo: Sydney Bouchelle/WWAY)

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — After the state dental board proposed changes to its existing anesthesia and sedation rules, the woman pushing for those changes is sharing her thoughts.

Shital Patel is the wife of cardiologist Dr. Henry Patel. Dr. Patel died two years ago after his oxygen levels dropped during a dental procedure where he was out under anesthesia.

Since her husband’s death, Shital has been pushing for a trained anesthesiologist to be in the room with the oral surgeon performing the procedure. However, that was not included in the updated rules. Instead, the board is encouraging patients who feel that an additional person is necessary to ask for that when speaking to a doctor.

“They are telling people that ‘yeah, right, we know this is dangerous, we’re not going to do anything about it, but we’re putting the burden on you to say ask, ask if someone else is in the room. If you’re not comfortable, go see someone else,'” Shital Patel said. “Well, when we go to a doctor’s office, we are entrusting our lives in their hands.”

The proposed new rules include requiring surgeons to monitor patients with a capnography machine, which is a device that measures breath and can detect abnormal breathing patterns.

“It’s nice to have that, but if the same person who is doing the procedure and reading the monitors is now looking at capnography too,” Patel said. “You need someone in the room whose only job is to monitor patients’ numbers and track their breathing and stuff like that. We felt like, yes you’re giving us this but it’s just one more burden on the actual surgeon who is doing the procedure, which has been our whole point the whole time.”

Patel is not alone in her efforts to change the rules. A former colleague of her husband, cardiologist Dr. Rob Harper says they are disappointed the board did not do more but the proposed changes are a step in the right direction.

“Shital and I would both consider it to be a small step. I can tell you a number of my medical colleagues, and perhaps some of my dental friends might consider it a step that doesn’t go far enough. Almost certainly a step that doesn’t go far enough,” Harper said. “The changes that have been proposed do not go far enough to ensure that the public is going to be protected when sedation procedures are done at an outpatient dentist’s office.”

The public comment period on the proposed changes is open again. Anyone interested in sharing their opinion can submit written comments to Bobby White at bwhite@ncdentalboard.org before November 17.

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