Practice Management

Checklists to improve patient safety have mixed results


Clinical question: Do checklists improve patient safety among hospitalized patients?

Background: Systematic reviews of nonrandomized studies suggest checklists may reduce adverse events and medical errors. No study has systematically reviewed randomized trials or summarized the quality of evidence on this topic.

Study design: Systematic review of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) with pooled estimates of 30-day mortality.

Setting: RCTs reporting inpatient safety outcomes.

Synopsis: A search among four databases from inception through 2016 yielded nine studies meeting inclusion criteria. Checklists included tools for daily rounding, discharge planning, patient transfer, surgical safety and infection control procedures, pharmaceutical prescribing, and pain control. Three studies examined 30-day mortality, three studied length of stay, and two reported checklist compliance. Five reported patient outcomes and five reported provider-level outcomes related to patient safety. Findings regarding the effectiveness of checklists across studies were mixed. A random-effects model using pooled data from the three studies assessing 30-day mortality showed lower mortality associated with checklist use (odds ratio, 0.6, 95% confidence interval, 0.41-0.89; P = .01). The methodologic quality of studies was assessed as moderate. The review included studies with substantial heterogeneity in checklists employed and outcomes assessed. Though included studies were supposed to have assessed patient outcomes and not the processes of care, several studies cited did not report such outcomes.

Bottom line: Evidence regarding the effectiveness of clinical checklists on patient safety outcomes is mixed, and there is substantial heterogeneity in the types of checklists employed and outcomes assessed.

Citation: Boyd JM et al. The impact of checklists on inpatient safety outcomes: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. J Hosp Med. 2017 Aug;12:675-82.

Dr. Simonetti is a hospitalist at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

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