I enjoy a little structure in my life. I have a love affair with lists – to do lists, project lists, grocery lists, errand lists, pre-and post workshop checklists. Lists of annual personal and professional goals. I receive a great sense of joy when I can mark something off my list and prioritize the remaining items if necessary.

I’m not the best about my internal memory lists – hence, we drove 35 miles on Sunday to go bike riding in the country and I left my helmet at home. I’m also not wild about relearning the alphabet at almost 51, so, quickly back to the house, I picked up the helmet, and we were off to a new destination – and a written list for this activity. As many times as I ride, I can’t believe I left the helmet but honestly, rather than wrack my brain trying to remember everything for a bike trip, a short list would suffice to prevent this error from occurring again.

In the Checklist Manifesto, Atul Gawande, shares his experience and insight into the application of checklists in the healthcare environment to improve patient safety and efficiency. In addition, there are additional potential outcomes in regards to cost-savings from duplication of efforts, tests, etc. An interesting by-product of the checklist is the significant increase in communication and perception of teamwork within the groups effectively using a checklist.

An historical discipline used in other industries including the airline and architectural industries for safety and project management, Gawande proposes the checklist is the key to taming a high-tech world – a world in which our information doubles every year. That’s a lot of data to digest and assimilate!

Gawande creates the distinction between errors in ignorance (lack of knowledge) and errors in ineptitude (poor utilization of knowledge.) For some, it may be humiliating to use a checklist – to potentially admit a human mind cannot store the vast number of processes and complex problem solving required on a required basis. But it happens in our personal life as much as it does in the HR, Risk Management, Finance Department, the OR, on a med-surg unit or ICU.

So what does this have to do with compassion?

Perhaps as we create and fine-tune our checklists for patient safety, quality and efficiency, we add one more little “to do.” Personally and empathetically communicate care, concern, comfort and encouragement to the patient. Check. Complete.

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