The Checklist Manifesto — How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande

104BOOK REVIEW

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande

In my opinion, Dr. Atul Gawande is one of the most articulate and thoughtful authors currently writing about health care issues and the human condition. How he has time to write such well-researched and engaging books never ceases to amaze or impress me.

A little background: Dr. Gawande (pictured below) is a general and endocrine surgeon at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, a staff writer for The New Yorker, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, and also leads the World Health Organization’s Safe Surgery Saves Lives program.

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right is his third book, and by far his most applicable beyond the world of health care and medicine.

It tries to answer the broad question, “Why do highly skilled and experienced health care providers make mistakes?”

These mistakes, including a failure to administer antibiotics before surgery, seem like simple omissions, until he describes the consequences. “Patient injury and even death are the result of overlooking small but key steps in the surgery process.”

The problem, he says, is that the volume and complexity of medical knowledge today makes it extremely difficult to deliver consistent, correct and reliable services. His proposal is to institute a simple checklist to ensure that a doctor’s work is error free.

 

Skeptical, but then convinced

I must admit, I was skeptical at first that the humble checklist could be used in the complicated world of medicine. But Gawande illustrates the power of the “simple list” that is used in building skyscrapers and flying airplanes. He interviews several people in the construction and aviation professions who offer compelling ways to construct a good checklist.

He also tells of the failure of his first surgical checklist, which proved too lengthy and vague to be of use. As the book progresses, he builds his case for checklists, showing their value in a wide range of applications from homeland security to investment banking.

How the checklist can be used in business

The Checklist Manifesto has huge implications for the business world when we think of how much complex and costly work is done by teams — often working with fluid leadership and direction. Simple, repetitive team tasks, such as progress reporting or deliverable hand-offs, could be made much more efficient through the use of checklists.

I encourage you to read Gawande’s important message, for it offers a useful solution to help us reduce errors in our complicated times so we get things done right — the first time.