The Problem with Surgical Checklists

scalple.jpgSurgical checklists, like the one developed by the World Health Organization, are highly recommended to help reduce the risk of surgical errors and complications. However according to a new study, surgical checklists are often not used properly, or not used at all. Noncompliance is a huge problem in the healthcare industry and as a result, patients are frequently exposed to the risk of serious or fatal errors.

According to a study that was conducted by researchers from the Columbia University School of Nursing, many hospitals don’t even have a surgical checklist to prevent infections, while those that do implement checklists are unable to make sure that these are being followed completely. As many as one in 10 hospital Intensive Care Units did not implement the checklist for the prevention of central line-associated blood stream infections. These are potentially fatal infections that result from the contamination of the central lines that are used to deliver nutrition and drugs to a patient in an ICU. One in four hospitals did not even have a checklist for preventing ventilator-associated pneumonia, which is one of the most common fatal hospital-acquired infections. Even when the hospital did have a checklist, the checklists were only followed approximately 50% of the time.

So what do you do if you are a patient, scheduled for surgery, and concerned about the prospect of being injured due to such noncompliance?

The answer could lie in taking matters into your own hands. According to the results of another study, patients, who went into an operating room with a checklist and made staff in the operating room confirm that they had indeed read the checklist and would follow it were much less likely to suffer from surgical errors.

In this study, researchers took the surgical checklist developed by the World Health Organization, and gave it to 43 patients. These patients asked the surgical team to confirm that they would indeed follow all the items in the checklist. The rate of surgical errors and complications among these patients was compared to another group of 61 patients, who were unaware of the checklist and did not receive a copy of the checklist.

Interestingly enough, the researchers found that surgical teams made to confirm that they would follow the items on the checklist, were much more likely to follow all the 26 items contained on the WHO checklist. Those items included checking for allergies before administering anesthesia and checking for retention of surgical items like sponges before the patient is taken out of the operating room.

It is obvious that an informed patient who has the WHO surgical checklist and ensures the operating room personnel are aware of all the items on the checklist is likely to be safer in the operating room.

The Indiana medical malpractice lawyers at Montross Miller Muller Mendelson Kennedy LLP represent victims of medical negligence across Indiana.