Grey’s Anatomy Docs use Checklists…And so do Real Docs

By now I hope that you’re caught up on your DVR..because I’m going to talk about last Thursday’s Grey’s Anatomy episode. Don’t worry – there won’t be any spoilers. But I will tell you that one of the doctors brought attention to one of my favorite things…a checklist!

Over eager Dr. April Kepner bounced through the halls pestering Dr. Christina Yang about using a checklist to make sure all the protocol was met for one of their patient’s care. Dr. Kepner explained that the checklist has been used in aviation for years and helps to cut out human error.

It’s true – I just finished reading “The Checklist Manifesto” by Dr. Atul Gawande and he notes that airline pilots fill out pre-flight checklists and have crisis checklists incase anything goes wrong in flight.

It may seem silly because these are experienced professionals who know what they’re doing – but it’s very easy to forget simple steps when you’re under pressure. Having a checklist helps you to clear your mind of all the simple stuff that might get overlooked.

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Health Producer Checklists

I don’t take people’s lives into my hands when I go to work as a senior health producer but I still use a checklist for every field shoot I go on. Several days before a shoot – I go over the interviews in my head and write out each question that I want to ask.

I’ve started every single interview I’ve ever conducted the exact same way – “Please say and spell your first and last name.” Yet – I always write a note that says “name/age/occupation” at the top of my question list. I don’t want to have to remember to remember it. I also write out every shot that I want to get while we’re in the field.

After doing this for years it seems like such a simple task but I never skip the step of making my checklist because if there is a surprise – I don’t want to forget the easy stuff. I just report on surgeries – imagine if I were the actual surgeon!

Checklists in Surgery

Dr. Gawande has worked with the World Health Organization to get checklists into hospitals around the world because of the wonders they’ve done for pilots and for high-rise construction workers. His team started with an 19-point checklist in 2008. Six months into the study – the eight hospitals saw a 36 percent drop in major postsurgical complications.

Because I work in the health field – I know a lot of surgeons…so I wanted to know if this checklist thing was for real. So I asked Dr. Christopher Roseberry – a surgeon specializing in minimally-invasive procedures in New Hampshire.

He emailed me this, “By having a simple checklist order sheet, pre-operative orders became easy and our success at implementing the SCIP (Surgical Care Improvement Project – started in 2003 by the CDC) measures rose to nearly 100%. In fact, the outliers were those patients who somehow got to the OR without having a set of pre-printed checklist orders on their chart. It takes the fallible memory out of the equation.” See – it works!

Back to Grey’s Anatomy

Ok, back to Grey’s Anatomy…as most checklist naysayers do – Dr. Yang dismissed the list. But Dr. Kepner explained that a patient died on her watch because she forgot a simple step. That doctors need rules and steps to depend on and even though they are fussy and annoying and people hate them…they work!

I couldn’t agree more – except with one thing…it’s not only doctors who need checklists…we all do. It makes us better versions of ourselves. We become more efficient, productive and organized. Not all of us take someone else’s life into our hands each day – but we do have important jobs and tasks at hand…so why wouldn’t we want an edge to get things done right?


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6 replies
  1. Laura
    Laura says:

    I think this is awesome. I hope the episode throws the Checklist Manifesto into the limelight even more. If more doctors, ERs, ORs, and companies used checklists…I just think that the rationale behind it is so brilliant! It’s simple, its premise is both our accepting our own limitations as well as pushing them, freeing up our brains to concentrate on the more complex, flexible, sophisticated processes. We use several in VMV but I’m really pushing all departments to use them for more things. And I just made a few for our nanny 🙂 Checklists rule!

  2. Joe Anthony
    Joe Anthony says:

    It’s comforting to know that the men and women who have our lives in their hands aren’t freelancing with their “gut instincts” all the time, as ER and other hospital dramas might have you believe.

    Glad that you were able to finish Checklist Manifesto!

    • List Producer
      List Producer says:

      Hi Joe — I have to thank you so much for introducing it to me! I can’t stop talking about it!!! I’m working on a separate post about Joe Duran’s experience with the book too.


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  1. […] mentioned “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande before – it’s one of my favorite books about lists. It’s all about bringing checklists into the […]

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