Does a checklist before surgery really save lives?

A simple tool can potentially yield huge beneficial results.

As reported by MedPage Today, Atul Gawande led a team that studied whether surgical teams who completed one-page procedural checklist in the operating room affected patient care.

The results, published in the NEJM, were stark. In eight hospitals in eight different countries, both 30-day death rates from non-cardiac surgery and inpatient complications were significantly lowered.

If the results could be validated, and the checklist widely implemented, this potentially can result in huge improvements in patient mortality and complications after surgery.

And that’s a big if, says surgeon Jeffrey Parks who casts a skeptical eye on the findings.

“Closer inspection of the data demonstrates that the biggest improvements were seen in hospitals from third world countries,” he writes. “This makes sense because in the United States, we’ve already been marking surgical sites and calling pre-op ‘time-outs’ for several years.”

So indeed, can a set of “irritating instructions on a laminated list,” really halve death rates?

The jury’s still out on that.


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