"For decades, we in surgery believed surgical crisis situations were too complex for simple checklists to be helpful. This work showed that assumption was wrong," senior author Dr. Atul Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital and professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, said in a statement.
"Four years ago, we showed completing a routine checklist before surgery could substantially reduce the likelihood of a major complication. This new work showed use of a set of carefully crafted checklists during an operating room crisis also has the potential to markedly improve care and safety."
For the randomized-controlled trial, investigators simulated multiple operating room crises and assessed the ability of 17 operating room teams from three Boston area hospitals to adhere to life-saving steps for each simulated crisis.
In half of the crisis scenarios, operating room teams were provided with evidence-based, written checklists. In the other half of crisis scenarios, the teams worked from memory alone.
The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found if a checklist was used during a surgical crisis, teams were able to reduce the chances of missing a life-saving step by nearly 75 percent.
Checklists were first used by military pilots almost 80 years ago and they were later adopted by high-risk industries such nuclear power plants where they were shown to improve performance during unpredictable crisis events, Gawande said.