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Saving 28,000 Lives a Year 263

The New Yorker is running a piece by Atul Gawande that starts by describing the everyday miracles that can be achieved in a modern medical intensive care unit, and ends by making a case for a simple and inexpensive way to save 28,000 lives per year in US ICUs, at a one-time cost of a few million dollars. This medical miracle is the checklist. Gawande details how modern medicine has spiraled into complexity beyond any person's ability to track — and nowhere more so than in the ICU. "A decade ago, Israeli scientists published a study in which engineers observed patient care in ICUs for twenty-four-hour stretches. They found that the average patient required a hundred and seventy-eight individual actions per day, ranging from administering a drug to suctioning the lungs, and every one of them posed risks. Remarkably, the nurses and doctors were observed to make an error in just one per cent of these actions — but that still amounted to an average of two errors a day with every patient. Intensive care succeeds only when we hold the odds of doing harm low enough for the odds of doing good to prevail. This is hard." The article goes on to profile a doctor named Peter Pronovost, who has extensively studied the ability of the simplest of complexity tamers — the checklist — to save lives in the ICU setting. Pronovost oversaw the introduction of checklists in the ICUs in hospitals across Michigan, and the result was a thousand lives saved in a year. That would translate to 28,000 per year if scaled nationwide, and Pronovost estimates the cost of doing that at $3 million.

Machines take me by surprise with great frequency. - Alan Turing