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Back to basics: checklists in aviation and healthcare
  1. Robyn Clay-Williams1,
  2. Lacey Colligan2,3
  1. 1Australian Institute of Health Innovation, Macquarie University, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  2. 2Division of Quality and Value, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, New Hampshire, USA
  3. 3Sharp End Advisory, LLC, Hanover, New Hampshire, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Robyn Clay-Williams, Australian Institute of Health Innovation, Macquarie University, Sydney 2109, New South Wales, Australia; robyn.clay-williams{at}mq.edu.au

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The checklist approach has the same potential to save lives and prevent morbidity in medicine that it did in aviation over 70 years ago by ensuring that simple standards are applied for every patient, every time.1

Healthcare safety activists have looked to checklists to solve a myriad of problems, particularly with the current iteration of checklists that have been imported from aviation. Large-scale implementations with conflicting outcomes suggest that these tools are not as simple or effective as hoped. Scholars debating the efficacy of checklist implementation in healthcare have identified important reasons for varying results: that success requires complex, cultural and organisational change efforts, not just the checklist itself2; that results may be confounded by a mix of the technical and socioadaptive elements,3 and that local contexts may either augment or undermine the implementation's outcomes.4

When ideas are translated from one industry to another, the assumptions underlying the original concepts may be lost or diluted. As checklists are increasingly imposed through a variety of professional and regulatory mandates in North America,5 Europe6 and elsewhere,7 perhaps it is time to review the fundamental principles of checklist use, including why they might work and how we can implement them better.

Checklists in aviation and their analogues in medicine

Aviation checklists are designed for modern aircraft that are complicated, not complex; it is usually possible to define a single process path that offers optimum performance for each flight condition. These process paths are flight tested, endorsed (with minor modifications) by airlines when they purchase a new aircraft type, and published in procedural manuals and checklists. There are two categories of checklist used in the cockpit: normal and non-normal (or emergency) procedures.

Normal procedures

Normal checklists are completed whenever the aircraft configuration needs to be altered as part of an everyday flight. There are differing approaches to …

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