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Surgeons Ignore Simple Checklists That Can Improve Patient Safety

Many people use checklists as a way to stay organized. It is a way for parents to make sure their kids are all set for the first day of school. Checklists can also be helpful to be sure we did not forget anything at the grocery store. However, for airline pilots, checklists are not only a way to maximize airline safety, they are also mandatory. Unfortunately, many surgeons are resisting similar mandatory checklists that can improve patient safety.

Many surgeons are resistant to checklist requirements. Some think they are unnecessary and take time away from their busy schedules. Others think they could never make such a basic mistake. According to Dr. Benjamin Blackmon, an anesthesiologist who supported the checklist program says surgeons thought it was a time intrusion, with “this is going to slow me down,” as the primary complaint.

However, the statistics show that thousands of adverse incidents take place in hospitals across the country every day. Many of those medical errors could have been prevented if hospitals required completion of mandatory surgical checklists. According to The Joint Commission, a nonprofit group that accredits and certifies health care organizations and programs, “the use of a checklist creates an expectation that organizations assess effective communication and safe practices.”

Dr. Atul Gawande is one researcher who popularized the use of surgical checklists in his book, The Checklist Manifesto. The World Health Organization and patient safety advocates have also pushed for their implementation, taking guidance from the pre-flight checklists required in commercial aviation. Still, most states and hospitals have failed to systematically adopt checklist requirements.

South Carolina is experimenting with widespread surgical checklists to evaluate their efficacy in reducing surgical errors. Since 2013, the South Carolina Hospital Association, together with the Harvard University School of Public Health and Dr. Gawande, launched an initiative to regularly use checklists in the pre-surgery safety process.

However, a checklist alone may not reduce medical errors. “It takes leadership support at the top and enthusiasts at the frontline,” said Dr. Gawande. “You need both, because enthusiasm dies on the vine without a system behind you.”

Jamie Thompson, chief certified registered nurse anesthesiologist with the hospital said surgical teams used to just going through the checklist without listening to what people were really communicating. “We’d just go in the room and start making an incision,” said charge nurse, Rosa Canty.

As part of an update to the checklists, the hospital fine tuned their operation. Surgery required a pre-surgery 25-point checklist, and a post-surgery debrief. All members of the surgical team have a role in going through the checklist to ensure each person has a chance to speak up. Checklist points include confirming the patient’s name, date of birth, medical allergies, and type and location of the operation.

If you or someone you love was injured as the result of a surgical mistake, the Gilman & Bedigian team is here to help. We are fully equipped to handle the complex process of bringing a medical malpractice claim on your behalf. Negligent doctors and surgeons should be held accountable for making dangerous mistakes. Our staff, including a physician and attorneys with decades of malpractice litigation experience, will focus on getting your family compensation, so you can focus on healing and moving forward.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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