In Canada, there continues to be overwhelming evidence that significant preventable harm and patient care errors continue to occur despite the fact that most health care providers are committed to providing safe patient care and to do no harm (Baker et al., 2004; Butt, 2010). Health care-associated errors or near misses are rarely the result of poor motivation, negligence, or incompetence, but are based on key contributing factors such as poor communications, less than optimal teamwork, memory overload, reliance on memory for complex procedures, and the lack of standardization in policies and procedures in health care (Canadian Patient Safety Institute, 2011). In addition, patient care errors are rarely the result of just one person’s mistake, but, instead, often reflect predictable human failings in the context of poorly designed systems. Despite current research into human factors as direct contributors to patient care errors, many of our complex medical procedures are based on perfect memory, even though we humans are prone to short-term memory loss (Frank, Hughes, & Brian, 2008).

In health care education, students must have the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and experience to be able to anticipate, identify, and manage situations that place patients at risk. To become competent in clinical skills, students practice in the classroom and laboratory, and then apply what they have learned to practice with supervision and support in the clinical setting. However, students today are often faced with less than optimal clinical exposure and assessment to develop the expertise and experience they need to be fully competent by graduation. Furthermore, inter-professional teamwork creates shared patient care environments, where many disciplines will care for patients and their conditions, and patient information and care management moves frequently among health care providers. Successful patient treatment is reliant on many different health care providers and their skill sets, and each discipline teaches clinical skills differently. The lack of consistency in training and in the use of the latest evidence-based research in health care education makes it challenging to ensure safe care.

These issues contribute to unsafe care and preventable medical errors. In the delivery of health care and professional health care practice, it is no longer acceptable that preventable errors continue to take place in modern-day health care. Health care providers need a method to improve patient care, and standardization of processes and approaches, such as is provided by practice guidelines and checklists, will contribute to the development of safer patient care (Canadian Nurses Association, 2004).

In reviewing incidents and preventable errors, significant factors, including human factors, have been identified, and strategies have been introduced to reduce the likelihood of errors and to create a safe standard of care. The creation of guidelines for the execution of processes will not change culture, but can encourage us to find a level of practice that contributes to standardizing safe care and helps us deal with our human failings as we try to always perform perfectly in a complex environment. Change should be focused on creating robust safety systems. Among these, the point-of-care checklist has been proven to be a safe strategy, and is now becoming more common in health care (Frank, Hughes, & Brien, 2008).

Use of Checklists

Checklists are the predominant format used in this resource, following the work of Dr. Atul Gawande, described in his book The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right (2010). Dr. Gawande believes that although the modern world has given us knowledge and experience, avoidable medical errors continue to occur. Dr. Gawande posits that the reason for this is simple: the volume and complexity of health care today has exceeded our ability as individuals to properly deliver it when caring for people consistently, correctly, and safely. He argues that we can do better by using the simplest of methods: the checklist. The most often-cited example of Dr. Gawande’s work is a simple surgical checklist from the World Health Organization that has been adopted in more than 20 countries as a standard of care and has been heralded as “the biggest clinical invention in thirty years” (The Independent, cited in Gawande, 2010). Just one example of its success comes from the United States: when the State of Michigan began using a checklist for central lines in its intensive care units, the infection rate dropped 66% in three months. In 18 months, the checklist saved an estimated $175 million and 1,500 lives (Shulz, 2010). Checklists allow for complex pathways of care to function with high reliability by giving the users an opportunity to review their actions individually and with others, and to proceed in a logical, safe manner.

This open educational resource (OER) was developed to ensure best practice and quality care based on the latest evidence, and to address inconsistencies in how clinical health care skills are taught and practiced in the clinical setting. The checklist approach aims to provide standardized processes for clinical skills and to help nursing schools and clinical practice partners keep procedural practice current.

How to Use This Book

This book should be used in conjunction with existing courses in any health care program. This book is not intended to replace core resources in health care programs that provide comprehensive information concerning diseases and conditions. An understanding of medical terminology, human anatomy, physiology, and pathophysiology is a required asset to use this book effectively. The development of technical skills is based on the knowledge of, practice to achieve proficiency in, and attitudes related to the skill, and an awareness of how our roles affect our patients and other health care professionals. This book contributes to enhancing safer care for patients by outlining evidence-based practices, and looking beyond just the technical skill to understanding the types of expertise and knowledge required to decrease adverse events. In each of the 89 checklists throughout this book (and summarized in Appendix 2), rationale for each step is provided in the form of Additional Information.

Each skill/procedure is covered in a chapter that has learning outcomes, a brief overview of the relevant theory, checklists of steps for procedures with the rationale behind each step of the process, and a summary of key takeaways. Photographs and diagrams (referred to as figures) relevant to the topic are included. The checklists are extendable across all health care professions and are relevant to nursing (RN, NP, LPN, RPN, and CA), allied health, and medical students. They also provide an opportunity for further sharing and collaboration among health care professionals. Students will find this resource valuable at the point of care to reduce the risk of adverse events and to provide a deeper understanding of safety considerations, infection control practice, injury prevention, and the value of consistency in clinical processes. Some key terms are set in bold  and explained in the Glossary in Appendix 1.

Our hope is that not only will the checklists in this resource provide clear and concise guidelines for performing clinical skills in the health care setting, but that they will also improve patient safety and quality of care.

Note: For the sake of consistency, the term patient and client are used interchangeably to refer to any person who is being cared for in the health care setting.

Suggested Online Resources

Patient Safety

1. BC Patient Safety and Quality Council. This website provides information on the latest initiatives from the BC Ministry of Health to improve clinical issues such as preventing (Deep Venous Thrombosis) DVTs; introducing the 48/6 model of care; improving hand hygiene; creating pathways of care for conditions such as heart failure, stroke, and (transient ischemic attacks) TIAs; reconciling medication; caring for the critically ill; and developing the surgical checklist.

2. Canadian Patient Safety Institute (CPSI). This website provides access to resources, toolkits, events, education, and conferences related to making patient safety happen in health care. It also reviews the latest initiatives.

3. Institute for Healthcare Improvement Open School. Free online courses about health care leadership, patient safety, improving capability, improving patient- and family-centred care, and population health can be found on this resource.

4. Institute for Safe Medication Practices. This is an excellent resource for the latest safety alerts and ways to advance safe administration of medication.

Interprofessional Education (IPE)

1. University of British Columbia Interprofessional Practice Education. This resource provides online modules for students to review strategies to work effectively across disciplines.

2. Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI). Free resources and strategies on how to improve health and healthcare around the world are listed on this website. It also offers free online courses to enhance teamwork, communication, and other topics related to safety in health care.


Baker, G., Norton, P., Flintoff, V. et al. (2004). The Canadian adverse events study: The incidence of adverse events among hospital patients in Canada. CMAJ 170:1678-1686.

Butt, A. R. (2010). Medical error in Canada: Issues related to reporting of medical error and methods to increase reporting. McMaster University Medical Journal, 7(10), 15-18.

Canadian Nurses Association and University of Toronto Faculty of Nursing. (2004). Nurses and patient safety: A discussion paper. Retrieved on Aug 26, 2015, from

Canadian Patient Safety Institute. (2011). Canadian framework for teamwork and communication. Literature review, needs assessment, evaluation of training tools and expert consultations. Retrieved on Aug 26, 2015, from

Frank, J. R., & Brien, S. (eds.) on behalf of the Safety Competencies Steering Committee. (2008). The safety competencies: Enhancing patient safety across the health professions. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Patient Safety Institute.

Gawande, A. (2010). The checklist manifesto: How to get things right. New York City, NY: Metropolitan Books.

Hughes, R. G. (2008). Nurses at the “sharp end” of patient care. Chapter 2 in Patient safety and quality: An evidence-based handbook for nurses. Retrieved on Aug 26, 2015, from

Shulz, K. (2010). Check, please: Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto. Retrieved from Huffington Post, Retrieved on Aug 26, 2015, from


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Clinical Procedures for Safer Patient Care Copyright © 2018 by Thompson Rivers University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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