Research has shown that using a checklist in operating rooms makes surgery safer and more successful. Now, a new study co-authored by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) student and surgeon Scott Ellner found that use of a surgical safety checklist, paired with training to improve communication in the operating room, reduced complications in the 30-day period after high-risk surgery by more than 15%.

“This study was significant because it demonstrated the importance of enhanced communication among all surgical team members to improve patient outcomes,” said Ellner, senior author of the study, who is working toward a master of science degree in health care management, a part-time continuing education program for physicians. He expects to graduate in May 2014.

It’s estimated that only about 25% of U.S. hospitals currently use a surgical safety checklist. And, according to the World Health Organization, while many hospitals routinely perform some pre-surgery checks, few operating teams accomplish them all consistently, even in advanced settings.

In the study by Ellner and colleagues, published in the December 2012 issue of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, researchers at Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford compared post-operative complications both before and after surgical team members participated in three 60-minute training sessions on improving operating room communication and using a safe surgery checklist. After the training, observers collected data during surgeries to assess whether there were any safety compromising events and whether or not a checklist was used.

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