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WHO Surgical Safety Checklist

Use a medically proven method during surgery to increase patient safety and reduce mortality.

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WHO Surgical Safety Checklist Template

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Out of the estimated 310 million surgical operations performed annually, the World Health Organization reports that the approximate mortality rate goes as high up as 5% — a statistic that is problematic in light of patient safety.

This is where the surgical safety checklist plays an important role: it is a series of steps that medical practitioners can follow to improve the quality of patient care delivered during anesthesia and surgery and reduce mortality and complication rates . The goal is to see significant improvements in these four areas of surgical care:

  • Prevention of surgical site infection
  • Administration of safe anesthesia
  • Establishment of safe surgical teams
  • Proper measurement of surgical services

The surgery safety checklist serves as a reminder and guide to the accepted safety practices that should be implemented for optimal patient safety.

The following article addresses the following points:

1. The need for a WHO surgical safety checklist

2. The WHO surgical safety objectives

3. How to run the WHO Surgical Safety Checklist

4. A digital tool for your surgical safety checklists

Our tip:

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In a study published by the Committee on Quality of Health Care America and the Institute of Medicine, complications caused by human error or systematic failures during health procedures have been known to result in more deaths in the United States every year than traffic accidents and breast cancer. More specifically, a systematic review suggests that a whopping 43% of missteps happen right within the operating room, and over one million deaths happen because of complications — half of which are avoidable.

Because the need for surgical safety remains of utmost importance, the “World Health Organization’s Safe Surgery to Save Lives” initiative released the surgery safety checklist to reduce the percentage of surgical deaths globally. The checklist establishes a set of safety checks to be performed before, during, and after a surgical procedure using simple, easy-to-follow steps.

When properly implemented, it can minimize preventable risks and save the lives of more surgical patients through improved communication and team dynamics during surgical operations.


There are ten essential objectives for the implementation of the surgical safety checklist. All of which apply to all World Health Organization member states and their respective healthcare systems.

Overall, it addresses procedures related to:

  • Accuracy of correct-site surgery
  • Proper provision of safe anesthesia
  • Effective management of airway problems
  • Management of hemorrhage
  • Identifying and avoiding all known allergies
  • Reducing possible risks of surgical site infection
  • Preventing swab and instrument retention
  • Correct specimen identification
  • Effective surgical team communication and hands-on monitoring of surgical outcomes


A systematic review shows that the surgical safety checklists have positive impacts in reducing patient complications and mortality in the operating room and post-surgery when properly implemented. That’s why incorporating the world health organization's surgical safety checklist into your current procedures is vital.

Here are three easy steps on how you can do it.

1. Preparation

First things first, your team needs to understand the tool, how it works, and why you need it. The checklist is only as effective as the commitment of the people who use it, so your team must be fully on board with the checklist implementation. You can reinforce this in three ways:

  • Assess your workplace culture. You can’t fix what you don’t know, so surveying your workplace culture will help you understand employee attitudes and perspectives toward the existing processes you have in place.

    One of the recommended tools for this is the ASC SOPS. As you do this, ensure that you’re capturing responses from a good representative sample of your surgical team members with enough responses from physicians so you get optimal insights.
  • Assign an Implementation Team. These are the people who will take the lead in the planning and execution of the checklist initiative. Diversity is best, so form a multidisciplinary group with representatives from each role on the surgical team.
  • Involve Your Physicians. Having a physician and anesthesiologist as champions of the surgical safety checklists can encourage its implementation with the rest of the team and be a key driver for its successful integration.

2. Ownership

Once you’ve identified the key people in the initiative, the next step is to customize it according to what your patients and facility need. Here’s how you can do it:

  • Customize and Test. Even though the WHO surgical safety checklist is already meant to help tighten your surgical procedures, there may be modifications needed to be done. However, ensure that you’re not removing vital steps that might compromise patient safety as you do this. You can conduct multiple simulations to test the viability of your checklist so you can spot possible errors or blind spots in a safe environment.
  • Monitor. As your team members start to use the surgical safety checklists, ensure that proper monitoring is set in place. Not only does tracking promote accountability among your team, but it also fine-tunes the performance of your checklist. Through this, you catch any possible weaknesses that might otherwise go unnoticed.

3. Execution

When your checklist has passed your simulations with flying colors, you’re ready to execute. As your team integrates the WHO surgical safety checklist, make it a point to provide coaching and feedback where needed. The goal is to achieve as close to 100% accuracy in all surgical procedures and establish a sustainable process that will benefit your patient significantly in the long run.


Through Lumiform, you can digitize your surgical safety checklists so your team can have full accessibility, whether offline or online. Because we understand that patient safety is your priority, we make data consolidation and tracking easier. Through our software, you can get the information you need using your smartphone or tablet. Valuable information is right at your fingertips anytime and anywhere.

But that’s not all; a digitized checklist will let you and your team enjoy the following benefits:

  • Straightforward, uncomplicated form builder that you can fully customize and adjust anytime.
  • Easy and convenient real-time data monitoring through auto-generated reports.
  • Improved accountability within your surgical team’s performance that lets you spot mistakes before they escalate.
  • Minimize the probability of surgical-related errors and save more lives.

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