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OM in the News: Checklists as a TQM Tool in Hospitals

December 14, 2014

surgeryHow can we use the TQM tools in Chapter 6 to reduce deaths in surgery? One tool is a kind of poka-yoke called a checklist (see p. 223). The Wall Street Journal (Dec. 13-14, 2014) quotes Dr. Atul Gawande describing how he worked with a team from the airline industry to design what emerged as just a checklist. Surgical blunders, says Gawande, are “most often basically failures of communications. The checklist had some dumb things—do you have the right patient ? But the most powerful components are: Does everybody on the team know each other’s name and role? Has the anesthesia team described the medical issues the patient has? Has the surgeon briefed the team on the goals of the operation, how long the case will take, how much blood they should be prepared to give? Has the nurse been able to outline what equipment is prepared? Are all questions answered? And only then do you begin.”

The result, after he tested in 8 cities around the world, was that in every hospital that used the checklist, complication rates fell. The average reduction in complications was 35%. The average reduction in deaths was 47%. The system has since been replicated in multiple places. Scotland has implemented it and taught it at the frontlines –and has now demonstrated that 9,000 people’s lives have been saved over the last 4 years.

“The hardest part,” says Gawande, “is to bring the culture that has the humility to recognize that even the most experienced people, even the most expert fail.” Doctors fear these kinds of checklist systems. When he surveyed surgeons 3 months after they adopted it and asked, “What do you think about this approach?” he found that about 20%  really dislike it—“It’s paperwork, it’s a pain in the butt, I don’t want to do this.” But when he asked, “If you’re having an operation, would you want the team to use the checklist?” 94% did.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. How else can checklists be used in hospitals?

2. What other TQM tools can be employed in a surgery process?

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