Digital surgical checklists: unlocking the secret to enhanced health worker safety

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Originally published on MedTechViews.eu.

Goran Ribaric, Director, Regional Safety Officer EMEA J&J Medical Devices
Claude Mabilat, Global Director Medical Affairs AMR / AMS, bioMérieux

We all know that working in stressful environments makes health workers more prone to medical errors which can lead to patient harm. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the risks health workers are facing including emotional disturbances, healthcare-associated infections, illness and even death. As we mark World Patient Safety Day 2020, it is crucial to address health worker safety as well.

Recently, guidance and checklists have been published to support health workers by identifying key domains to be covered in a pandemic preparedness plan. In the ‘new normal’, we see hospital teams constantly asked to adopt and replicate existing and new safety protocols and to develop dedicated COVID-19 operating theaters, which help contain the spread of disease.

The duration of operating room (OR) services should be shortened, staff exposure to the nosocomial spread of COVID-19 decreased, and greater emphasis should be put on reducing medical errors by implementing safety checklists to enhance teamwork, communication and culture of safety.

Safer surgery

There is robust scientific literature on checklists for safer surgery including in the reduction of hospital-acquired infections – for which COVID-19 is our latest test. But we know that impressive clinical outcomes are only seen when compliance with existing safety protocols is high.

This is where we are seeing the synergistic benefits of digital. Many hospital teams have turned traditional paper checklists into digitally synchronized OR workflows, guiding teams step-by-step throughout surgery.

Using digital technology coupled with mandatory staff confirmation of each procedural step, surgical teams are now experiencing how real-time digital workflows displayed on dedicated OR screens can improve efficiency by reducing surgery time and risk of healthcare-acquired infection for patients and health workers.

Addressing teamwork failures

Evidence suggests that digital workflows decrease variability in surgery and enhance compliance to previously aligned protocols. Moreover, the usage of digital checklist and synchronized workflows help to address a major challenge in ORs: communication and teamwork failures which are amongst the most prevalent factors underlying adverse events, causing about 43% of surgical errors. This can also minimize unwanted flow disruptions that could lead to medical errors and harm.

Digital checklists also include important safety checks like the Surgical Safety Checklist and manufacturer Device Briefing Tool to prevent surgical use-errors and adverse events. The aim of digital checklist and workflow is to create a resilient institutional ecosystem where innovative technologies improve patient outcomes through enhanced human performance, decision making, education and guiding patients through to recovery.

The medtech industry has developed a wide range of digital products that help enhance health worker safety. Together we will play our part in managing the current and future pandemic.