Healthcare News: An Easy Way to Save More Lives in Surgery

Written by LeAnn Thieman, CSP, March 14th, 2013

Dr. Atul Gawande authored a new study showing that if surgical teams follow a checklist when crises hit, important life-saving steps are less likely to be missed.

Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and a professor in the department of health policy and management at Harvard School of Public Health, said that a hospital with 10,000 operations a year logs an estimated 145 surgical emergencies annually, according to the study published in the Jan. 17 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Gawande conducted research four years ago that shows using pre-surgery checklists cuts down on complications during a procedure, then he wanted to explore whether using a checklist mid-emergency makes a difference too. The study found that operating room teams who used surgical checklists when a life-threatening event arose were 74% less likely to skip pivotal life-saving steps compared to those who worked from memory.

For the study, Gawande’s team recruited 17 surgical teams from three hospitals in the Boston area and simulated more than 100 operating room emergencies using a robotic patient. Each team used a surgical checklist in half of the simulations and worked from memory alone in the other half. The failure rate for following proven life-saving processes fell from 23% to 6 %, Gawande reported.

Afterward, nearly all of the participants said they would want a checklist used while handling a crisis during surgery.

Gawande said that to help develop surgical checklist protocols he and his colleagues collaborated with airline crisis experts who follow similar checklists for emergencies such as engine failures or in-flight fires.

Hospitals and surgical teams should tailor checklists to their own environments, he said.

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