I am a big fan of the Checklist philosophy (see past post reviewing this), as espoused by docs like Atul Gawande and Peter Provonost. And I like to combine that with the writings of Dr. Richard Bohmer (Designing Care) who talks about "Islands of Standardization" that stand out in a sea of unstructured medical thinking (those areas where docs need to take in a lot of info and make a decision). In other words, we should use checklists for those areas of clinical care that should be standardized... and be careful not to overuse them in places where the care cannot be as structured.
For example, as part of the Szollosi Healthcare Innovation Program , we have studied some "inflection points" in healthcare (i.e. A new and important finding that can have a large impact). Whereas traditional checklists focus on procedures, we have started adopting the concept to parts of the clinical care process. To help understand this, it's important to understand that the clinical care process has three basic phases:
1. The Initial Diagnosis Phase: : An "unstructured" time where the doctor takes in all history, physical exam, and test elements and decides on a "final diagnosis". To date, we have explored (in order of increasing complexity): Hematuria, Atrial fibrillation, and Cancer.
2. The "Workup" Phase: Once one of these "Diagnoses" has been decided by the physician, there is usually an "island of standardization" that often involves further testing and a consult to a specialist. For Atrial fibrillation, it involves getting a stress ECHO and a Holter monitor, and then seeing a Cardiologist after those tests are completed. We therefore created a "Checklist" within an EMR message that allows the doctor to send a note to our Care Coordination team. The doctor needs to choose the message type (called "PATHWAY - Atrial Fibrillation"), answer one question within the message (which helps decide how acute the problem is), and then send it to a coordinator who follows the directions of the message (e.g. set up the tests, and then the consult).
3. The Management Plan Phase: This is another unstructured time where the PCP or specialist reviews all the information and decides on the treatment plan. But note, depending on certain issues, it is possible to make this part somewhat standardized as well.
4. The Stable Follow-Up Phase: This is a very structured time where the patient is stable on their treatment plan and just needs routine follow-up care, such as checking some blood tests and vital signs every 6 months. This can often be done by an NP or even an RN, and the doctor is only notified if a patient's findings veer off course. This area is particularly ripe for Checklists.
In other words, we do not want to try and create checklists for the unstructured thinking part of the physician's job- that part is critical and is very hard to replicate or standardize- but the time it takes is relatively small. Unfortunately, physicians instead waste their valuable time on trying to remember the exact protocol for the workup phase, and helping their patients complete them as quickly as possible and make sure they do so in the right order. THAT is where a checklist helps, and even better if we can hand it off to a "lower level" person on our team! As the saying goes, make sure each team member is working to the top of their ability and licensure!
Since we are on the topic of using Checklists appropriately... you should read this new article from HealthLeaders magazine: "Use Medical Checklists as Tools, Not Cure-Alls, for Patient Safety Problems". Three great quotes from this article point to how we need to be careful in further understanding how to be successful with Checklists:
However, in reality, these checklists need to be accompanied by a "change in the culture"—where nurses, for instance, are empowered to question doctors who don't follow the steps properly or where members of a healthcare team toss out long held beliefs that infections are an inevitable cost of being in the hospital. "Just having a checklist on a piece of paper isn't going to be enough," Pronovost said in a statement.
"Everyone wants to do a checklist. The message becomes that . . . checklists are the simple solution for solving an adaptive problem with a technical solution," he says. "It needs to be embedded in a broader effort to evaluate and address local context. It needs to add value. If providers don't believe in the value of the checklist, they'll just check a box." (Sean Berenholtz, MD, an associate professor with the departments of anesthesiology, critical care medicine, and health policy and management at Hopkins)
The eventual goal, the researchers wrote, is that checklists should be created that are "succinct, unambiguous, focused, and ultimately effective, and efficient." And, when ultimately faced with a crisis, "we can react quickly and decisively, knowing that the items we act out from the checklist are well thought out, tested, and will provide us with the results we want."
Medical Personnel Taking a Page Out of the Pilot Handbook
Dec, 2009: Medical personnel who used procedural checklists modeled after preflight checklists used by pilots were more likely to report safety-related incidents and feel empowered to address safety issues, according to an online report in the December 21, 2009 Archives of Surgery (PDF). After preoperative checklists were introduced to certain medical teams, their use rose from 75 percent in 2003 to 100 percent in 2007, the study found. The introduction of checklist-based programs, known in the aviation industry as "crew resource management programs," or CRMs, was accompanied by an increase in self-initiated reports of safety breaches among medical staff, from 709 per quarter in 2002 to 1,481 per quarter in 2008 among teams using the checklists.