Dentists: Heed the Incredible Power of the Checklist

Checklists for airline pilots, surgeons, and dentistsWhether you’re a dentist, surgeon, or airline pilot, checklists can dramatically improve performance. In fact, Russell Taichman, professor of dentistry at the University of Michigan, has co-authored a study with two pilots about how airline crew resource management (CRM) checklists can be applied to dental care.

This study of CRM and dentistry proposes breaking the dental visit into five distinct stages, each with its own explicit checklist.

It was some 30 years ago that airlines realized that CRM could reduce human error, the cause of most accidents. Within that industry, studies have consistently found significant – even dramatic – reductions in accidents when airline checklists are used.

Since then, other industries have taken notice. Once a revolutionary concept, the use of medical checklists has rapidly become the new standard.

Dr. Atul Gawande, an associate professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, pioneered the field of medical checklists. He was named a MacArthur fellow in 2006, and his surgical safety checklist has been credited with reducing hospital death rates by as much as 50%.

The results of using a pre-surgical checklist have spoken for themselves. There are fewer deaths and fewer complications (about one-third less, according to some research) – and hospitals are even saving money by not having to treat those complications.

While hospitals have been eager to adopt the checklist, doctors and staff have been somewhat more reluctant. In a real-world setting, many surgical teams do not actually consult an itemized checklist.

But it seems to me patients would love to know their surgeon or dentist was using a checklist before each and every procedure. You could even mention it in your dental marketing as a patient benefit!

Read more: Should Dentists Take Safety Advice from Pilots?

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