Make Your List – and Check it Twice
No, this isn’t about that Christmas song, this is about that book: The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. Gawande is a surgeon, Harvard professor, and head of the World Health Organization’s Safe Surgery Saves Lives Program. The program tested a 2-minute, 19-step surgery checklist in eight hospitals around the world. The results: Major complications dropped by 36% and deaths dropped by 47%! This remarkable experiment was based, in part, on what Gawande learned from talking with experts far from the operating room…jet pilots, structural engineers and disaster responders, to name a few. He concludes, “I came away with a kind of theory: under conditions of complexity, not only are checklists a help, they are required for success. There must always be room for judgment, but judgment aided – and even enhanced – by procedure.”
So what about complexity in animal sheltering?
Last month the Association of Shelter Veterinarians (ASV) published the Guidelines for Shelter Standards. It occurs to me that part of the great gift in this monumental work is that it gives directors and operations staff a place to start making checklists customized to the unique nature of their organization (the building, the animal population, the available resources, the mission, etc.) while based on sound principles of animal care and wellness. Such lists could help to standardize critical processes within the organization – building efficiencies and best practices into the mix – while pointing to critical areas where decisions will be called for – building communications pathways into the mix.
Such checklists take Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to a whole new level. SOPs describe how (and sometimes why) ‘x’ or ‘y’ is done in any given organization – for example, “cleaning a kennel.” Continuing with this example, a checklist might require a person to confirm that the kennel was cleaned (according to SOP) and to note certain irregularities, such as “the dog in kennel 3 didn’t eat last night.” This simple piece of information, communicated in the right place in a timely fashion, could very well help to avert the onset of a disease outbreak.
I’m very excited about the Guidelines and their potential for improving the welfare of shelter animals and our ability to save their lives. And I can’t wait to start digging into that potential further. Starting Thursday, January 27, at 3 pm EST, we’ll be hosting the authors of the Guidelines in monthly webinars. Click here for more information on how to sign up.
I’ll be there. And you can bet I’ll be thinking about how the Guidelines could lead to checklists that help save lives…just like in human medicine.