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Medical Checklists are Saving Lives

For many, compiling a to-do list is a helpful, everyday habit. The introduction of a safety checklist created by Dr. Peter J. Pronovost, medical director of the Quality and Research Group atJohns Hopkins Hospital, brings the importance of checklists to a whole new level.

Unlike the average list that merely ensure the laundry and dishes get done, Peter J. Pronovost’s checklist is saving lives.

The combination of his father’s misdiagnosis and therefore flawed cancer treatment and the avoidable death of a young patient prompted Pronovost’s mission to improve hospital practices. He investigated the common behaviors that led to avoidable patient infection and made a checklist wherein each point aims to mitigate those leading causes.

Pronovost’s precautionary checklist includes the following actions:

  • Wash hands
  • Clean skin with chlorhexidine
  • Avoid placing catheters in groin
  • Cover patient and yourself (medical professional) when inserting catheter
  • Maintain a sterile area
  • Catheter only if it is in the best interest of the patient

The application of the checklist in Pronovost’s hospital led to a significant decrease in patient infection. Johns Hopkins went from having one of the highest rates of infection in the country to nearing zero incidents four years after applying the checklist.

Upon the success of the list in his hospital, more hospitals throughout the country are following suit and trying similar systems with measured success as well.

Adhering to safety checklists is not required by federal or state law. In most cases, it is up to each hospital to set safety procedural practices in their facility. The checklist ideally should be followed, but only if the situation calls for and allows it.

In certain cases, doctors cannot follow every step on the list due to time constraints or other case-specific reasons. They have to use their best judgment when practicing, and nurses, according to Pronovost’s best practice philosophy, need to act as watchdogs in order to ensure doctors are making the soundest decisions.

That change in the nurse-doctor relationship is difficult for some, but Pronovost insists that if doctors and nurses get past the initial discomfort of that transition that hospitals will become safer, and patients will receive better treatment. A doctor’s wounded pride is not as serious as a mistreated patient.

According to the Center of Disease Control, 31,000 patients die annually from infections that Pronovost’s safety checklist helps prevent. Not all hospitals’ safety measures are equal, so inquire about the safety of yours.

If you are a victim due to the negligence of a medical professional or want to report bad practices, contact a personal injury attorney in your area. A lawyer knowledgeable in medical malpractice claims will evaluate your case and best guide you towards the next legal step.

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