Critical event debriefing: a checklist for the aftermath

Curr Opin Anaesthesiol. 2021 Dec 1;34(6):744-751. doi: 10.1097/ACO.0000000000001061.


Purpose of review: Millions of perioperative crises (e.g. anaphylaxis, cardiac arrest) may occur annually. Critical event debriefing can offer benefits to the individual, team, and system, yet only a fraction of perioperative critical events are debriefed in real-time. This publication aims to review evidence-based best practices for proximal critical event debriefing.

Recent findings: Evidence-based key processes to consider for proximal critical event debriefing can be summarized by the WATER mnemonic: Welfare check (assessing team members' emotional and physical wellbeing to continue providing care); Acute/short-term corrections (matters to be addressed before the next case); Team reactions and reflections (summarizing case; listening to team member reactions; plus/delta conversation); Education (lessons learned from the event and debriefing); Resource awareness and longer term needs [follow-up (e.g. safety/quality improvement report), local peer-support and employee assistance resources]. A cognitive aid to accompany this mnemonic is provided with the publication.

Summary: There is growing literature on how to conduct proximal perioperative critical event debriefing. Evidence-based best practices, as well as a cognitive aid to apply them, may help bridge the gap between theory and clinical practice. In this era of increased attention to burnout and wellness, the consideration of interventions to improve the quality and frequency of critical event debriefing is paramount.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Checklist*
  • Communication
  • Heart Arrest* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Quality Improvement