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An interesting article in the Oregonian newspaper Thursday morning discussed a study concerning the use of simple surgical checklists. The study was conducted by the World Health Organization and used hospitals in eight different nations. Hospitals in cities from Seattle to Manila to London were used. Surgical teams were all required to go through a checklist before starting any operation. Once they did, an amazing thing happened. Deaths and serious complications from the surgeries dropped off dramatically. The checklists were fairly simple, listing basic steps that should be taken before any surgery. Things like making sure they had the right patient and the right body part. Making sure the surgical tools were sterilized and discussing what problems might come up. After the surgery but before the patient leaves the operating room the team returns to the list, checking off items like making sure all equipment was removed from the patient. Checklists have been used by airplane pilots for decades. Before they start an engine or take any steps to get up in the air, they go through a written checklist making sure the basic things on the plane are working and ready to go. Why doctors and hospitals haven’t been using this low tech inexpensive tool before is a mystery. The article detailed how doing so would save an estimated 15 billion per year in medical costs to repair the damage done from preventable medical errors. That’s 15 billion with a “B”. And what about the cost savings gained by not having to pay damages to people they injure from preventable medical malpractice. Malpractice that a simple checklist would have prevented. The article stated the study found patient deaths after surgery declined by 40% after using the checklist. A 40% reduction in deaths. Let me repeat that, a 40% reduction in deaths. Anytime you can prevent one death a strong argument can be made to implement a new procedure, especially one that costs next to nothing and is simple to do. So what is the better suggestion, passing laws making it harder for consumers to sue doctors and hospitals when they are killed or injured by preventable medical error? How about using this simple tool instead so you prevent the deaths and injuries in the first place? Sounds like a no brainer, particularly if you can save 15 billion a year.

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