The Value of a Surgical Checklist

A surgery checklist is a vital part of a surgical team’s safety protocol. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that hospitals that employ a surgical checklist were able to reduce serious medical errors by 33%. If you’re about to undergo surgery, ask a member of the surgical team if they will be using a surgical checklist. The use of surgical checklists is patterned after the airline industry’s pilot checklist prior to take-off. It is designed to avoid errors and maintain safety. “You take something as complex as surgery, and you think there isn’t a lot that can be done to make it better,” said Atul Gawande, a Boston physician who led the study being published in the New England Journal of Medicine. “A checklist seems like a no-brainer, but the size of the benefit is dramatic.” According to the checklist, before an operation begins, the team members introduce themselves, review the patient’s name and the procedure to be performed. They discuss allergies, confirm that all equipment has been sterilized and necessary antibiotics administered, and assess potential problems such as blood loss. After the surgery but before the patient leaves the operating room, the team returns to the checklist, labeling specimens and ensuring that all equipment has been removed from the patient. Though the steps are routine, an astonishing number of doctors and nurses miss at least one, Gawande said. “If you miss a few percent here and a few percent there, it adds up,” he said. The central premise of a checklist “is making sure that nothing is missed. It’s an all-or-none phenomenon.”

Holly Haines