Home > Attention to Detail, Execution, Process Simplification, Simplicity > Checklists save lives…on planes and in the ER

Checklists save lives…on planes and in the ER

safeflightchecklistIf you look into the cockpit before takeoff, you should see your pilots going through a pre-flight checklist, even though they could probably do it in their sleep.  Atul Gawande, a reporter for the New Yorker magazine, wrote an article a few years ago advocating a simple checklist of ICU protocols governing physician hand-washing and other basic sterilization procedures.  Hospitals that implemented this checklist (proposed by a doctor named Peter Pronovost) reduced hospital-infection rates by two-thirds within the first three months of adoption. 

It didn’t cost anything.  Saved lots of lives.  Seems like a no-brainer.

Bureaucracy and arrogance killed it in many hospitals.  In the rest, lives have been saved.  And who knows how many lives have been saved by the pilots using their checklist.

As I write this, President Obama will speak to the nation in just under 90 minutes.  This is the sort of “innovation” that the President needs to encourage and reward, without a vote of any kind (although I guess that’s one way to make it happen).

We don’t use checklists enough.  We tell the story about the pilot checklist in our negotiations class as a reminder about the benefits of Preparation.  Of not taking anything for granted.  I introduced a detailed checklist a few years back after a series of failed audits to help new and long-time marketers through the production process.  Regulatory-related errors fell to nearly zero within a few weeks of rolling it out.

And there’s a terrific side benefit.  We found using the checklist actually increases your confidence.

Where could you introduce a checklist in your day-to-day life to make you more efficient?

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  1. Beth Marshall
    09/16/2009 at 1:34 am

    When I’m doing something new or different or complex, I’m more likely to use a checklist, but as I gain experience through repetition, it’s tempting to put the checklist aside, falling into the mistaken belief that I know it all.

    I like to cook, and most of the time I use a recipe, though there are dishes I’ve made so often I think I can dispense with the recipe. Sometimes this works, but occasionally a dish doesn’t turn out the way I planned – worse, not better – and I realize I skipped a step or left something out. It might not ruin the entire meal and I promise I haven’t poisoned my family, but it’s a reminder that I should have followed the checklist.

    Teaching my son to drive was another lesson in using the checklist. After so many years of driving, the skills I was trying to articulate were almost subconscious, but every step (look both ways at intersections, use the turn signal, slow down when approaching a stop sign, watch for pedestrians!) is essential to safe driving.

    When lives are at stake, or regulatory compliance, why risk it? They’re not a crutch or sign of weakness. They lead to consistent results!

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