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SEATTLE - We've heard plenty of horror stories about operating room mistakes - everything from doing surgery on the wrong body part to forgetting to remove instruments and sponges.

But now that every hospital in the state has adopted a new checklist system, proponents say it's made a big difference.

Here's how it works.

First of all, everyone on the surgery team briefly introduces themselves.

People are more likely to inform one another about problems if they know each other's names, said Dr. David Flum, UW/Surgical Care and Outcomes Assessment Program.

It's a simple step that has made a big difference.

It levels some of the power in the hierarchy in the room, gets rid of the captain of the ship mentality and thinks of the operating room as sets of teams that have to work together, he said.

The University of Washington has been using the surgical checklist for about a year and a half now.

The process is trying to make an operating room or a hospital a little more like an airplane - safer, a system built to protect folks, he continued.

Dr. Flum says since every hospital in the state has adopted the checklist, system infections and complications have dropped.

When you talk to people who aren't in medicine and you explain what we're talking about here with the checklist, they always say the same thing: I can't believe you weren't doing that before, he said.

To celebrate the milestone of the surgical checklist being adopted by every hospital in the state, a reception is being held at the Museum of Flight. It's being held there because the idea came from the flight checklists used by pilots. Special guests include aviation expert John Nance who wrote the book Why Hospitals Should Fly.

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