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Digital WHO Surgical Safety Checklists

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What is the WHO Surgical Safety Checklist?

The WHO Surgical Safety Checklist is a 19-item checklist used in operating rooms to reduce complications and patient deaths through improved communication and coordination among medical practitioners. Developed by the World Health Organization (WHO), it was published in 2008 after an extensive study that involved hospitals in 8 countries.

The WHO Surgical Safety Checklist was proven by multiple studies to help reduce post-operative death and morbidity and aid in promoting a culture of safety in surgical care. There are medical organizations that advocate its use and some even call for its mandatory enforcement after observing its impact in improving the safety of patients.

This article briefly discusses (1) the main sections of the WHO surgical safety checklist; (2) steps on implementing the use of surgical safety checklists; (3) technology to help medical professionals consistently use surgical safety checklists; and (4) free WHO surgical safety checklists.

3 Main Sections of a Surgical Safety Checklist

Designed to be applicable worldwide, the surgical safety checklist developed by the WHO is divided into 3 sections designed to be conducted at 3 specific points during operation.

  1. Briefing

    Done before the administration of anesthesia, this 7-item section of the surgical safety checklist is to be conducted in the presence of at least the nurse and anaesthetist. The list of questions include confirmation of known allergies, airway or aspiration risk, and blood loss.

  2. Time-out

    To be conducted before skin incision and in the presence of the nurse, anaesthetist, and surgeon, this section specifies anticipated critical events and lists related questions to be answered by said medical professionals.

  3. Debriefing

    Done before the patient is allowed to leave the operating room, the nurse verbally confirms 4 items on the checklist. Finally, the surgeon, anaesthetist, and nurse confirms any key concerns regarding the recovery and management of the patient.

5 Steps to Integrating the Use of a Surgical Safety Checklist

The importance of using a surgical safety checklist has already been established but there are still healthcare institutions that do not effectively implement its use in the operating room. Here are 5 steps to effectively integrate its use in your healthcare institution:

  1. Review the studies made on surgical safety checklists and understand the impact to patients.
  2. Get the buy-in of the medical professionals by presenting the studies and best practices in the medical field and mandate the use of surgical safety checklists in the healthcare institution.
  3. Perform internal audits to ensure that the surgical safety checklists are being used.
  4. Analyze the impact of the use/non-use of the surgical safety checklist in surgical care.
  5. Discuss the impact with the medical staff to reinforce the continued use of surgical safety checklists.

Convenient Digital Tool for Surgical Safety

Surgical safety checklists should be readily available for the medical staff before an operation and easy to use in the operating room. iAuditor, the world’s most powerful mobile checklist app, can help healthcare providers easily answer surgical safety checklists anytime. With iAuditor on an iPad, smartphone, or other mobile device, you can:

  • Create and share mobile-ready surgical safety checklists.
  • Encourage medical professionals to complete quick checklists using mobile devices.
  • Save time with a mobile app that synchronizes the information as the checklist is being filled out.
  • Save all information in secure cloud storage. Preview a sample web and PDF report.
  • Analyze common issues and use the collected information to improve surgical safety.
  • Use for free with small medical teams. Unlimited reports and storage for premium accounts.


Erick Brent Francisco

SafetyCulture staff writer

As a staff writer for SafetyCulture, Erick is interested in learning and sharing how technology can improve work processes and workplace safety. Prior to SafetyCulture, Erick worked in logistics, banking and financial services, and retail.