Surgical Checklists Likely Reduce Medical Errors and Hospital Deaths


Every day people use checklists to keep track of things and make sure steps are not missed. It may come as a surprise to many that when doctors use such a simple tool they not only significantly decrease medical errors, but likely save lives.

Medical errors continue to be a major problem in hospitals nationwide. Studies have shown that roughly 100,000 patients die each year as the result of preventable medical errors in hospitals. Many of these errors are related to surgery, which makes surgical checklists particularly important.

Although they certainly cannot prevent all instances of medical malpractice, evidence suggests that surgical checklists have the ability to dramatically reduce errors. In a recent study, researchers looked at the primary reason for medical errors in almost 300 surgery cases.

They compared these reasons to items on SURPASS, a comprehensive surgical checklist currently being used by hospitals in the Netherlands. Almost 30 percent of the errors corresponded to items on the checklist. Four of the 10 deaths reviewed had a contributing factor that was identified on the checklist.

Items on such checklists include: making sure proper equipment is available, assuring necessary communication has occurred between medical staff, identifying where on the patient’s body the surgery is going to take place, and checking that the operating schedule is correct.

One would think that hospitals would be eager to adopt checklists that may increase patient safety. Johns Hopkins, for example, has developed a relatively simple checklist which has been shown to almost completely eliminate bloodstream infections in intensive care units.

So far, however, only about 25 percent of U.S. hospitals are using one of the three checklists that have proven to be effective.

Hopefully, as research continues to prove the value of surgical checklists, more and more hospitals will begin adopting them.

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