Expert Commentary

Surgical checklists in U.S. hospitals could save money, improve care

2010 study published in Health Affairs on the potential cost savings and improvements in patient care from adopting a surgical safety checklist.

In 2007 the World Health Organization introduced a surgical safety checklist as part of its Safe Surgery Saves Lives initiative. The checklist’s purpose was to reduce surgical complications that result from inadequate safety practices as well as to promote greater communication among surgery teams.

The checklist was used in a pilot program in eight hospitals in different cities that year. Hospitals were places such as Seattle, London and Auckland as well as Manila, New Delhi and Amman. The data gathered formed the basis for several studies, including one published in 2010 in Health Affairs, “Adopting a Surgical Safety Checklist Could Save Money and Improve the Quality of Care in U.S. Hospitals.” In this study, the authors quantified the potential cost savings and improvements in care from the adoption of the checklist used in the pilot study.

The study’s findings include:

  • Use of the WHO checklist is associated with an annual cost saving of $103,829 for a hospital that performs 4,000 noncardiac operations or about $26 per operation performed.
  • The cost saving equates to $8,652 for every complication averted.
  • The hospital will achieve cost savings within the same year of implementing the checklist, if at least five major complications were prevented with the use of the checklist.

The cost savings are calculated at the hospital level only, but the paper notes that it would be reasonable to expect that additional savings would accrue to payers as well. Given these net benefits, hospitals are encouraged to adopt the use of checklists to improve the quality of patient care.

The same data also formed the basis for a 2009 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, “A Surgical Safety Checklist to Reduce Morbidity and Mortality in a Global Population.” Rather than looking at costs and quality of care, the researchers focused on potential reductions in surgical complications and patient deaths.

Tags: medicine, safety, technology

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