Making Surgery Safer by Using Checklists

An international research team has shown that death and complication rates from surgery can be dramatically improved by using simple checklists to make sure that safety measures are taken before, during and after each operation.

The research project, involving nearly 8,000 patients at eight hospitals around the world, was done as part of the World Health Organization’s program called Safe Surgery Saves Lives. The results were published in January 2009 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

When the surgical teams at the hospitals used the checklists, they found that death rates were cut in half and non-fatal complications by one-third.

The nineteen items on the surgical safety checklist include basic items like verifying that the team has the correct patient and the correct surgical site, making sure the pulse oximeter (which measures oxygen in the blood) is working, making sure antibiotics have been given within one hour before the start of the surgery to prevent infection, and confirming that x-rays needed for the case are on display in the operating room. One other item on the checklist is to have all members of the surgical team introduce themselves by name and role; this is intended to give permission to lower-status team members to speak up at a later time if they notice something wrong. Click here for the entire checklist from the WHO (which is part of the United Nations).

The Patrick Malone law firm has prosecuted many lawsuits against hospitals where these basic preventive steps were not done and their absence led to tragedy. Examples include non-functioning pulse oximeters, surgery done on the wrong body part, and failing to prepare for known possible risks like heavy bleeding.

Patrick Malone discusses steps that patients can take to make sure their surgeons follow safe practices in his new book, The Life You Save: Nine Steps to Finding the Best Medical Care — and Avoiding the Worst, available at Amazon.

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