Surgical checklists linked to shorter hospital stays, study suggests

Surgical checklists have long been thought to increase patient safety by standardizing practices and improving adherence to protocol for proper procedure before, during and after operations. They may also play a role in shortening patient hospital stays, according to new research in JAMA Surgery.

In an analysis of more than 10,700 surgical outcomes, researchers found the use of surgical safety checklists between 17 and 24 items long not only reduced average length of hospital stay, but reduced 30- and 90-day death rates following surgery. Average length of hospital stay fell from 10.4 days to 9.6 days; 30-day readmission rates fell from 14.6 percent to 14.5 percent; death rate within 90 days of surgery fell from 2.4 percent to 2.2 percent; and 30-day death rates fell from 1.4 percent to 1.3 percent, according to the study.

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In a commentary published along with the paper, researchers point out that although the efficacy of surgical checklists is well-established, the difficulty of implementing them is often downplayed.

"A focus on the systems of care and promotion of a culture of safety at the institutional level is necessary to optimize checklist implementation and realize its full potential," they wrote. "Effective implementation is critical to meaningful use of [surgical safety checklists], which can lead to maximally improved outcomes."

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