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Checklists in the operating room: Help or hurdle? A qualitative study on health workers' experiences

Øyvind Thomassen12*, Guttorm Brattebø14, Jon-Kenneth Heltne13, Eirik Søfteland1 and Ansgar Espeland56

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care, Haukeland University Hospital, Bergen, Norway

2 Department of Research, Norwegian Air Ambulance Foundation, Drøbak, Norway

3 Department of Medical Sciences, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway

4 Betanien University College, Bergen, Norway

5 Department of Radiology, Haukeland University Hospital, Bergen, Norway

6 Department of Surgical Sciences, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway

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BMC Health Services Research 2010, 10:342  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-10-342

Published: 20 December 2010



Checklists have been used extensively as a cognitive aid in aviation; now, they are being introduced in many areas of medicine. Although few would dispute the positive effects of checklists, little is known about the process of introducing this tool into the health care environment. In 2008, a pre-induction checklist was implemented in our anaesthetic department; in this study, we explored the nurses' and physicians' acceptance and experiences with this checklist.


Focus group interviews were conducted with a purposeful sample of checklist users (nurses and physicians) from the Department of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care in a tertiary teaching hospital. The interviews were analysed qualitatively using systematic text condensation.


Users reported that checklist use could divert attention away from the patient and that it influenced workflow and doctor-nurse cooperation. They described senior consultants as both sceptical and supportive; a head physician with a positive attitude was considered crucial for successful implementation. The checklist improved confidence in unfamiliar contexts and was used in some situations for which it was not intended. It also revealed insufficient equipment standardisation.


Our findings suggest several issues and actions that may be important to consider during checklist use and implementation.