pre op checklists can reduce fatal surgical errors by 45 percent

Harvard Medical School professor and New Yorker contributor Atul Gawande, MD, a general and endocrine surgeon at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, recently presented a lecture in which he pointed out that using patient safety protocol checklists before surgery have been shown to reduce the rate of fatal anesthesia and surgical errors by 45 percent. Nevertheless, less than 20 percent of hospitals have implemented the system, Gawande says.

“If this [checklist] were a drug, I’d be a multi-billionaire,” Gawande said at the annual scientific meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

“But it’s just a piece of paper and a different culture and a way of thinking about what we do — a way of thinking about failure and understanding the ineptitude is just as important as ignorance.”

Avoidable Surgical Errors Cause Millions to Suffer Death and Disability

More than 230 million major surgeries are performed each year in the U.S. Nearly seven million people die or suffer permanent disability from avoidable surgical errors.

Gawande describes the problem as a failure to treat patients in a systematic way. Hospital teams often fail to work together to prevent wrong-patient procedures, wrong-site surgeries, anesthesia errors, infections, bleeding events, and other preventable medical errors during surgery.

Studies have shown that the relatively simple implementation of pre-op checklists can significantly reduce the risk of hospital negligence leading to surgical death, says Gawande.

“[S]ystem innovations will save more lives in the next decade than all of our efforts and bench signs discovery will — more than cancer vaccines and stem cell research,” he told attendees.

Gawande presented the Eugene P. Pendergrass New HORIZONs lecture at the 96th annual scientific meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

Source:, “RSNA: Healthcare is disjointed; better care is on HORIZON, Gawande says,” Kaitlyn Dmyterko, November 30, 2010

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