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Does Your Surgeon Use a Checklist? She Should.


There’s no such thing as a risk-free surgery; too much can go wrong. Sometimes our bodies simply can’t take the stress and strain of a major surgery, but sometimes a careless mistake can cause paralysis, loss of function, or even death. We’ve worked on cases where simply getting a mole removed led to serious burns from a surgery-room fire caused by the careless use of instruments. Tort “reformers” have fought long and hard to discount the idea that doctors should be responsible for these mistakes, even though the facts of the situation show that:

  1. Eighty percent (yes, 80%) of malpractice claims involve significant disability or death;
  2. The amount of compensation patients receive strongly depends on the merits of their claims;
  3. Most people injured by medical malpractice do not bring legal claims.

Atul Gawande, a surgeon with Harvard Medical School and an accomplished writer, developed and tested a simple idea: a checklist for surgery that would at least help with avoiding basic mistakes. He’s getting a lot of press for a simple idea, for the simple reason that it works:

"We brought a two-minute checklist into operating rooms in eight hospitals," Gawande says. "I worked with a team of folks that included Boeing to show us how they do it, and we just made sure that the checklist had some basic things: Make sure that blood is available, antibiotics are there."

How did it work?

"We get better results," he says. "Massively better results.

"We caught basic mistakes and some of that stupid stuff," Gawande reports. But the study returned some surprising results: "We also found that good teamwork required certain things that we missed very frequently."

Like making sure everyone in the operating room knows each other by name. When introductions were made before a surgery, Gawande says, the average number of complications and deaths dipped by 35 percent.

Imagine that: complications and death dropped 35% simply by providing a checklist, a checklist most doctors didn’t think would help. So, next time you or a loved one goes in for surgery, be sure to ask about a checklist, and don’t be surprised if the doctor is reluctant. With something as important as surgery, though, it pays to be persistent!

If you believe that you or a loved one has been injured by a doctor or hospital’s mistake and have questions as to your rights and options, call a reputable law firm. Do not act solely upon the information provided herein. Get a consultation. The best law firms will provide a free confidential consultation, and help you understand whether you should persue legal action based on your specific situation.


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  1. GB says:
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    A checklist is a terrific example of a simple, inexpensive, and time conserving task that makes a huge difference.

    Great post.

  2. Christine Zuniga says:
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    Your post highlights how important patient empowerment is. I think most people are hesitant to question their doctor, yet active participation can save lives. Thank you for this information!

  3. Nick DiCello says:
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    Great post. Dr. Gawande’s ideas can be found in his book entitled The Checklist Manifesto. It is a good read and his ideas have application beyond the hospital and OR setting.