by Kate McQuestion E-mail
In 2006, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine cited the substantial success of the implementation of a routine checklist on reducing catheter-related infections in the Intensive Care Unit of a Michigan Hospital. This story was shortly followed by media uptake the WHO Patient Safety Checklist, which, when utilized, reduced surgery-related mortality by almost 50%. The clinical use of checklists has become a hot topic for clinical quality improvement advocates, and as such, they been generally embraced in some areas of clinical practice.
Could this kind of tool be effective in public health?
The concept of a checklist is, intentionally, simple. The checklist serves as a mechanism to combat human failures of attention or memory—particularly in high stress or repetitive environments. The overall goal of a checklist is not only to ensure that each item is checked-off as prescribed, but to ensure an environment that promotes teamwork and professional discipline. Due to the ability of checklists to make complex systems approachable, they have already been widely used in industries such as aviation and construction, and now are advancing in medicine as well.
HIV prevention efforts, too, involve complex systems consisting of dynamic target populations, multiple programmatic efforts, and a lack of measurable quality indicators—all in all, making sustainable quality improvement challenging.
Checklists might provide a standardized method to ensure basic quality improvement and program management practices in an environment where pressing need may often lead to deficits in consistent and quality programming. Furthermore, they can be used as a tool to increase quality by improving communication, both internally within an organization, but also with the members of the target population being served.
It is a common complaint that too little emphasis falls of clinical delivery sciences, but it is fair to say that even less falls of preventative services delivery. NGOs working in HIV prevention need to keep better track of both the outcomes and impact of their programs. With out measuring results, it is hard to identify best practices and improve quality standards. HIV Quality Improvement Checklist tools could serve as a constant reminder for NGOs to monitor and evaluate results, thus improving health of communities world-wide.
- Pronovost P, Needham D, Berenholtz S, et al. An intervention to decrease catheter-related bloodstream infections in the ICU. N Eng J Med 2006; 355: 2725–32.
- Gawande A. The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. Henry Holt and Co: New York, 2009.
- Haynes AB, Weiser TG, Berry WR, et al; Safe Surgery Saves Lives Study Group. A surgical safety checklist to reduce morbidity and mortality in a global population [published online ahead of print January 14, 2009]. N Engl J Med. 2009; 360(5):491-499.
Kate McQueston is a Master of Public Health Student at The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice and Intern at the WHO Regional Office for Europe Division for Communicable Diseases.