Surgical checklists improve care, reduce OR errors

Checklists are for more than just busy days in an office or running errands--using them also helps doctors and nurses prevent emergencies in the operating room, a study published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine finds.

The study aimed to find successful operating-room management tactics, with teams assigned to manage some scenarios with a set of crisis checklists, and other scenarios from memory alone. Of 17 operating-room teams that participated in the simulation, failure to adhere to lifesaving processes of care was less common when checklists were used, with 6 percent of steps missed vs. 23 percent missed when checklists weren't used at all.

A total of 97 percent of participants left the simulations saying they would prefer to use a checklist during an operating crisis, suggesting that using checklists in such scenarios can improve surgical care.

"People have called [checklists] 'dumbing down' medicine, but what we showed is that even in this incredibly stressful, high-complexity situation, the teams that worked from a kind of pre-planned set of steps had three quarters lower likelihood of missing critical lifesaving steps," Atul Gawande of Boston-based Brigham and Women's Hospital, who worked on the study, told Reuters.

In December 2012, a study in the Journal of American College of Surgeons also found surgical checklists to be useful and cost-effective, which reinforced two earlier studies finding that common errors in safety-related behavior in the operating room are direct results of inadequate communication and teamwork.

To learn more:
- here's the study
- read the Reuters article

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