'Ethical checklists' help residents avoid ethical issues

Checklists have been a big benefit to medicine, most recently in high profile cases demonstrating that they help reduce surgical morbidity and mortality greatly through infection control. Now, at least one institution is taking the concept to a new realm, producing an "ethics checklist" designed to remind residents how to care for patients.

The idea, which is in place at the Washington Hospital Center in DC, requires residents to wear a the eight-item checklist on an ID-sized badge on a lanyard. The checklist covers issues such as whether patients have a do-not resuscitate order in place, whether family members disagree about care and whether patients are able to make their own medical decisions.

Residents are asked to review the list for each patient, note any problems that may arise and call in bioethics staffers if they need help. The hospital's three ethics consultants already handle about 300 queries a year; this approach will hopefully increase the number of appropriate calls these consultants receive.

To learn more about this approach:
- read this American Medical News piece