Operating room staff in Ontario hospitals now have to go through a safety checklist before starting and after completing surgery.

The list is designed to reduce the risk of surgical errors such as the removal of healthy breasts from women at Hôtel-Dieu Grace Hospital in Windsor in 2001 and 2009.

As of April 1, it became mandatory for hospitals to report to the province whether they had complied with the list by checking items that include whether:

  • The correct patient is in the operating room.
  • The correct operation is being done on the correct part of the body.
  • The appropriate tests and X-rays have been reviewed.
  • The patient's allergies and medications have been checked.
  • Monitoring equipment is in place. 
  • Instruments, sponges and needles have been counted after surgery to ensure nothing was left inside the patient.
  • Specimens taken during surgery are properly labelled.

The checklist, adapted from a version produced by the World Health Organization, has been pilot tested since early January at the Windsor Regional Hospital. There, it has worked well despite initial concerns that it could delay the start of operations, said Dr. Shael Liebman, general surgeon and president of professional staff at the hospital.

"It has been shown now that it only takes two or three minutes to have the checklist run through," he said.

According to Ontario's Ministry of Health, the list has been shown to reduce the rate of deaths and complications among patients.

Hospitals are being required to report publicly twice a year on their use of the checklist, starting July 31. The first report will cover the period from April 1 to June 30.