A Cognitive Safety Net

Prospective memory is the memory “to do” list, that is the memory to do things. A number of Healthymemory Blog posts have addressed failures of prospective memory, some which have been personally embarrassing (“An Embarrassing Failure of Prospective Memory, and “Another Embarrassing Failure of Prospective Memory”), and others that are quite tragic (“Prospective Memory and Technology”), such as leaving a child unattended for a day in a car and returning to find that the child has died. Atul Gawande is a surgeon who has addressed the problems of medical errors during surgery. These errors are documented in his book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. Frightening numbers of surgical errors have been taking place every year without being systematically addressed. Dr. Gawande and his fellow researchers have addressed them and come up with a solution that markedly reduces these errors, but only if it is employed. That is the World Health Organization (WHO) safe surgery checklist.

The solution is the humble checklist. Unfortunately, the checklist is too humble, resulting in it being ignored by highly esteemed professionals, such as surgeons. The checklist encompasses both types of transactive memory. It is an external prompt, which can employ one of the simplest technologies, ink or graphite on paper. It also encompasses the social aspect of transactive memory, the memories of fellow human beings. Although checklists can be used by single individuals, it is also frequently used by duets or teams, with each party being responsible for different items on the checklist. For example, a surgical team will introduce themselves to each other and identify the portions of the checklist for which they are responsible. Gawande also gives a detailed account of how checklists were used by Captain “Sully” Sullenberger and his crew in safely landing their airliner in the East River.

It is clear that I need to get my personal house in order and start using checklists. The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right is highly recommended. It is both entertaining and informative, although perhaps a bit scary in its documentation of medical errors. But reading this book could save your life if you inquire whether they are going to use the World Health Organization (WHO) safe surgery checklist during your surgery. This checklist can be found at


As for checklist applications, searches indicate that a variety are available. If you have any experience with these APPS, please leave comments.

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One Response to “A Cognitive Safety Net”

  1. Washington Post Best Selling Books | International Best Selling Books Says:

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