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Ontario unveils surgical checklist

WINDSOR, Ont. - The surgical safety checklist that was rolled out this week by the Ontario Ministry of Health is designed to prevent precisely the kind of mistakes that saw Dr. Barbara Heartwell perform two unnecessary mastectomies on a pair of local women, health officials said Wednesday.

Just over a year in the making, the 32-point list will become mandatory April 1.

"I think when something like this happens it is incumbent upon all of us who are involved in the health system to look and see what lessons can be learned," Ontario Minister of Health Deb Matthews said Wednesday.

"We do have a surgical checklist that will be implemented in the spring that would have prevented this error. Starting in April every operation that will be done in this province will be preceded by all people in the operating room going through the checklist - one of the things is a double check of the biopsy report."

The list is based on a worldwide study begun in October 2008 involving eight hospitals, including Toronto's University Health Network consisting of Toronto General, Toronto Western and Princess Margaret hospitals. Also included in the study were hospitals in Jordan, India, the Philippines, the U.S., Britain, New Zealand and Tanzania.

Dr. Michael Baker, the executive lead for patient safety for the Ministry of Health in Ontario, said the study showed the use of surgical checklists reduced the risk of "unintended events or mistakes" by about 30 per cent worldwide.

The program was officially introduced to hospitals Tuesday with the next three or four weeks being used as an educational period before the April deadline.

"I see this as a crucially important step forward for patient safety in Ontario hospitals," said Baker, who added the lists have been welcomed by the province's hospitals.

"It shows surgeries that used the list, which contains 32 items done prior, during and after the operation, that it saves lives and reduces the error rate."

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