CHICAGO — Which hip is being repaired? Is this the right anesthesia? Do we have all the right surgery tools?
Answering such basic questions from surgery checklists — and involving everyone as a team, even patients — saved lives in Veterans Affairs hospitals, according to one of the most rigorous studies of patient safety in the operating room.
Surgery deaths dropped 18 percent on average over three years in the 74 VA hospitals that used the strategy during the study. Surgery team members all created checklists and discussed them in briefings before, during and after surgery. That's a somewhat novel concept in a setting where the surgeon has traditionally called all the shots.
Peter Pronovost, a Johns Hopkins professor and author of a book on using checklists in medicine, called the VA results impressive.
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"Teamwork problems are ubiquitous in health care but in operating rooms, they're so problematic because ORs are so hierarchical. They're full of ritual and for so many years it's been the surgeon dictates," Pronovost said.
The VA's program began in 2003 and over time has been adopted at virtually all of its 130 surgery centers. Before sedation, patients identify themselves and the reason for their surgery, hear the checklists being read off, and can speak up if something doesn't sound right. The idea is to give everyone in the operating room an equal voice in helping ensure patient safety.
The study's senior author, James Bagian, former VA patient safety director, and his colleagues analyzed three years of data, from 2006-08, at 74 hospitals trained in the patient safety methods, compared with 34 similar centers where the program hadn't been implemented. The study included almost 200,000 surgeries.
The number of patients who died dropped from 17 per 1,000 surgeries each year before the program began to 14 per 1,000 surgeries per year afterward at the trained hospitals.