Book Review – The Checklist Manifesto

Several years ago, I read Complications (paid link) by Atul Gawande, so I was vaguely familiar with this author when we began a checklist initiative at work last year. As part of that project, I received a copy of The Checklist Manifesto (paid link), which is a book that I’d been meaning to read anyway!

I read this in paperback.

Here is the blurb:

We live in a world of great and increasing complexity, where even the most expert professionals struggle to master the tasks they face. Longer training, ever more advanced technologies—neither seems to prevent grievous errors. But in a hopeful turn, acclaimed surgeon and writer Atul Gawande finds a remedy in the humblest and simplest of techniques: the checklist. First introduced decades ago by the U.S. Air Force, checklists have enabled pilots to fly aircraft of mind-boggling sophistication. Now innovative checklists are being adopted in hospitals around the world, helping doctors and nurses respond to everything from flu epidemics to avalanches. Even in the immensely complex world of surgery, a simple ninety-second variant has cut the rate of fatalities by more than a third.

In riveting stories, Gawande takes us from Austria, where an emergency checklist saved a drowning victim who had spent half an hour underwater, to Michigan, where a cleanliness checklist in intensive care units virtually eliminated a type of deadly hospital infection. He explains how checklists actually work to prompt striking and immediate improvements. And he follows the checklist revolution into fields well beyond medicine, from disaster response to investment banking, skyscraper construction, and businesses of all kinds.

An intellectual adventure in which lives are lost and saved and one simple idea makes a tremendous difference, The Checklist Manifesto is essential reading for anyone working to get things right.

I was already familiar with the concept of checklists in aviation from my training as a pilot and was vaguely aware that they were being used in surgical settings. This book outlined how the author worked with a group at his hospital to institute checklist use in pre-surgical preparation and for specific procedures in his hospital in order to reduce human error. The story of how he came to develop surgical checklists was helpful because he encountered some initial resistance to the project. Some skeptical surgeons were eventually convinced of the benefit, and Dr. Gawande explained how he had to learn what made a good checklist.

The author writes in a style that is very conversational and easy to follow, so this was a quick read for me. The concept of the checklist is so simple that it feels like an entire book about this is unnecessary. However, I found the story about how his team created this idea and implemented it to be valuable to read about. Dr. Gawande also explains some concepts that help make a checklist that people will actually use.

Have you read any of Atul Gawande’s books (paid link)? Do you use a checklist for anything in your professional or personal life? Let me know in the comments (above).

Find more of my reviews here.

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