“Running the List”

Where did this term come from?

For those not in medicine:

  • A busy hospital service needs a way to keep up with the “to dos” of the day.
  • The junior residents and students responsible for these tasks need a way to know what they’ve done and what still needs to be done.
  • The senior residents and attendings need to keep track of the information and what is happening to guide and supervise the junior residents and students.

And all of this means keeping an accurate and up to date patient list. This can happen digitally in Epic, which is often what attendings use, but for most residents and students it means printing out the Epic list to keep in their pocket as they move through their day (and/or night).

p.s. If by chance you are still making your residents use Excel i.e. they have to physically create the patient list, shame on you! (Unless you don’t have Epic or another digital way to keep the list, in which case, I’m really sorry.)

And how do residents and students use the patient list?

  • Almost everyone draws little boxes for every detail they need to check off … and then puts a check in the box when it’s done.
  • Different colors for different tasks? Doodles? Notes during rounds or lectures? All of these and more, I’m sure.
  • Fine tipped pens are key (Every resident has a favorite type of pen which they hide from their attendings).

And then we run the list

“Running the list” means starting at the top of the list and discussing each patient sequentially, one at a time. We make sure to go over the plan for each patient, discuss what has changed, learn what has been “checked off”, and decide what needs to be added to the list.

This happens routinely at the beginning and end of the work day, and during handoffs. But, on a busy day, it may happen even more often.

So back to the original question

Although it sometimes actually feels like the intellectual equivalent of running, I suspect that the origin of “running the list” has to do with the idea of a “running list” i.e. a list that you add to as new things come up. But that’s just an educated guess, since I couldn’t find any actual data. If you have other thoughts, let me know!

Final thoughts

Running the list is an important part of caring for patients, but it can also be a practice.

What if, like a competitive runner, you took a moment before you “run” the list to center yourself, take a few deep breaths and get ready to run?

What if you tried to visualize each person on the list as you review the day’s tasks to remember that these aren’t just tasks… they are human beings in your care?

What if we consistently made it a goal to teach just a little bit (or a lot, if the time permits) every time we run the list? (Would this be “walking” the list? 🙂 )

And at the end of the day, when you put your patient list in the shredder (don’t forget this important step! #HIPPA), what if you did it intentionally – to mark the end of the work day and the transition to not being in the hospital?

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