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from "Study: A Simple Surgery Checklist Saves Lives - TIME," by Maya Szalavitz, TIME, 14 January 2009 :: via Signal vs. Noise

Sticks and stones may break your bones — but if you need surgery, the right words used in the operating room can be more powerful than many drugs. New research published today in the New England Journal of Medicine found that when surgical teams heeded a simple checklist — as pilots do before takeoff — patient-mortality rates were cut nearly in half and complications fell by more than a third. . . .

Whether these changes can be sustained over time is another question. Gawande and his colleagues note in the study that a phenomenon called the “Hawthorne effect” may be largely responsible for the checklist’s success. The effect was named for a series of experiments designed to determine how to increase productivity at a factory in Chicago. All of the tactics implemented by the study leaders improved worker output during the experiments — but researchers realized that the effect they were really measuring was a boost in motivation among workers who knew others were watching.

“The checklist is kind of an effort to produce a consistent Hawthorne effect,” says Gawande. “It is intended to make people aware that other people expect these things to be done.”