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Checklists — What They Mean for Hospital Safety



Have you ever followed a checklist when it comes to learning – or remembering – how to do a task? They are a simple tool, but they are extremely helpful for making sure that you stay on track and don’t forget important things. These days, checklists, which are frequently used in the aviation industry, are becoming increasingly important when it comes to hospital safety.

Physician developed medical checklists

Dr. Atul Gawande has helped popularize the idea of medical checklists. Dr. Gawande is a surgeon, Harvard professor, and writer for the New Yorker. In his book The Checklist Manifesto, he writes that “in complex situations – such as those which arise in almost every profession and industry today – the solutions to problems are technical and demanding,” and notes that “there are often a variety of different ways to solve a problem.” The physician says that “it’s all too easy to get so caught up dealing with all these complexities that the most obvious and common sense immediate solutions are not tried first.”

So what can be done about this situation? He suggests medical checklists that medical professionals can use to make sure that they do everything they are supposed to do. “Checklists are a forgotten or ignored business tool,” Dr. Gawande writes. “It’s time for them to come in from the cold.”

Some of the checklists doctors may use

Dr. Gawande has been an outspoken proponent of checklists. To that end, he developed a Surgical Safety Checklist that the World Health Organization has been successfully using to potentially save lives around the world. The checklist is meant to be read and followed by not just the surgeon doing the surgery, but the nurses, anesthesiologist, and other medical professionals involved:

Here are some of the questions in that checklist:

  • “Has the patient confirmed his/her identity, site, procedure, and consent?”
  • “Is the anesthesia machine and medication check complete?“
  • “Does the patient have a known allergy?”
  • “Confirm all team members have introduced themselves by name and role.”
  • “Confirm the patient’s name, procedure, and where the incision will be made.”
  • “What is the anticipated blood loss?”
  • “What are the key concerns for recovery?”

There are other medical checklists out there. features a variety of checklists for medical professionals to use, such as for operation rooms, heart surgery, gynecology, and other procedures. With the use of these checklists, health care can potentially improve. Patient advocate experts say that these are a good way to help.