Dr. Atul Gawande Speaks Up for Surgical Checklists & Patient Safety

Dr. Atul Gawande Speaks Up for Surgical Checklists & Patient Safety

By Roxanne Blanford

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Health care professionals are at risk for committing errors in patient treatment every single day.  Afterall, they're only human.  The good news is that many of these risks may be considerably reduced with the aid of surgical checklists.

Dr. Atul Gawande (surgeon, professor of surgery, editor, author, and an in-demand lecturer and speaker) conducted considerable research involving behaviors of people engaged in stressful occupations. 

This research (which culminated with the publication of 2009's "The Checklist Manifesto"), included aviators and pilots, high-risk investors and skyscraper builders. Dr. Gawande discovered that they all used some sort of checklist to manage their workflow.

Curious to find out whether this approach could have value when applied to medical training (for the benefit of patient safety), Dr. Gawande searched for real-life situations where checklists were used in medical and surgical environments. He came away with some surprising results.

How to Design a Surgical Checklist to Help Improve Clinical Performance and Enhance Patient Safety

What Is A Checklist and What Is Its Value?
A checklist is essentially a list of action items, or criteria, that are arranged in a systematic manner. The list allows the user to track, record, and/or verbally confirm adherence to procedure.

Checklists also help ensure that certain conditions or processes are acknowledged, considered, attended to, and/or completed according to protocol.

Checklists have been successfully utilized in aviation training to assist in the documentation of procedures. This facilitates a culture of accountability and reliability, because when used properly, a check list can:

  • aid memory and facilitate team communication
  • structure and formalize team interaction, training, work flow and specific roles
  • aid operational efficiency and team satisfaction
  • act as a framework for skills evaluation and assessment

In medicine, as discussed below, checklists can provide professionals with guidance and can help to minimize patient risk.

Improving Patient Safety: The benefits of medical and surgical checklists
Dr. Gawande found a number of studies that reflected dramatic drops in deaths and/or infection rates once a hospital implemented checklists as part of procedural practice. For example,

  • in one particular hospital, it was uncovered that appendectomy patients did not receive necessary antibiotics more than a third of the time. After the implementation of a simple checklist, those medication errors decreased by nearly 100% over time.
  • when checklists were implemented in eight hospitals around the world, complication rates fell by 35% in every hospital. Death rates fell by 47%.

Dr. Gawande thinks it is well past the time for the medical profession to revisit what is meant by "expertise." It is time to accept the fact that experts - even the most highly skilled clinicians, doctors and surgeons - need help, and that progress depends on experts having the humility to concede that they (and, their patients) could benefit from some assistance.

ANESTHESIOLOGY® 2017 KeyNote Speaker

Professor Atul Gawande adds the role of "ASA annual meeting keynote speaker" to his impressive resume when he takes to the podium during the American Society of Anesthesiologists Annual Meeting in Chicago, Illinois on October 21, 2017.

Follow the event on social media by using the #ANES17 hashtag.

Dr. Atul Gawande on the ASA /ANESTHESIOLOGY 2017 webpage.

CAE Healthcare is a proud ASA® Industry Supporter

Visit our booth ( #3135 ) at ANESTHESIOLOGY® 2017