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from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

Diseases & Conditions



Staying Healthy

Patient Safety

Patient safety: It takes a team.

When it comes to medical care, safety is always a priority. Everyone involved — including you, your doctors, and other healthcare professionals — has a role in ensuring that the care you receive is safe and effective.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) is committed to patient safety. An important part of AAOS' ongoing patient safety efforts are public service campaigns that raise awareness of the measures that surgeons as well as patients themselves can take to "team up" for safety.

The AAOS public service campaign "Patient Safety: It Takes a Team" highlights the important role patients and their loved ones have in ensuring safe surgeries.

"Patient Safety: It Takes a Team" promotes the cooperation between doctor, patient, healthcare professionals, and hospital staff that is necessary for safe, successful surgeries. There are many ways patients can become active members of their healthcare teams, such as:

  • Speak up — Be sure to ask questions when you need more information from your doctor.
  • Partner up — Involve a friend or family member in your care.
  • Know about you
    • Medical history. Be able to discuss your or show your medical history, such as past surgeries, major illnesses, and family history of medical problems.
    • Medications. Keep a complete, accurate list of all medications you take, including over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and nutritional supplements. And bring that list to your appointments.
    • Allergies. Tell your healthcare team about your allergies and any past reactions to anesthesia or medications.
  • Read up — Ask your doctor for educational resources to help you better understand your condition and treatment options.

This page is an introduction to the wide range of information the AAOS has developed about patient safety. The goal of these resources is to help you become an active, involved member of your healthcare team.

Communication Is the Key to Patient Safety

Open, honest communication with your doctor and medical team will help you become better informed about your care plan and the expected results.

Improving doctor-patient communication is featured in many AAOS public service announcements.

The more information you have about your health and care options, the better equipped you are to make decisions that are best for you.

  • Always be honest and complete when talking with your doctor. Information that seems minor or unrelated to you may be important to your doctor and medical team.
  • Ask questions. It is common to forget some things we want to talk about with our doctors. The best thing to do is make a list — and take notes.
  • Speak up when you do not understand. If there is a language difference, or if you cannot hear or see very well, make sure you tell your doctor and medical team.
  • Know the best way to reach your healthcare team during the day and after hours, such as by phone or email, or by sending a message through your electronic medical record (EMR).
  • Read up about your condition (for example, visit OrthoInfo) prior to your appointment so you are equipped with information and know which questions to ask your healthcare team.

Invite Someone You Trust to Join Your Healthcare Team

Involve a trusted family member or friend in your care. Healthcare can be complicated, especially if your doctor recommends surgery. A friend or family member can:

  • Come with you to doctor appointments
  • Help you remember healthcare instructions
  • Ask additional questions
  • Stay with or visit you in the hospital

A friend or family member can help you remember details about your care — two memories are better than one.

Your Office Visit

Your visit with an orthopaedic surgeon is an important meeting that can be most safe and effective if you plan ahead. It is important that you give your doctor the information they need and that you understand what your doctor is recommending.

  • Come prepared. Write down your concerns about your condition, such as pain or loss of mobility. Make accurate written lists of:
    • All your medications, including all prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, and nutritional herbal and vitamin supplements
    • Any surgeries you have had and when they occurred
    • Any family medical problems
    • Your allergies (rash, hives, swelling) or unexpected reactions (nausea, drowsiness) to medications

Make sure your healthcare team knows about medications you take and any allergies you have.

  • Take notes (written or digital) during your appointment and ask questions if you do not understand something, such as the reason for your doctor's recommendations or the instructions for taking medication. Some — but not all — doctors may allow you to take video of the appointment or be live on the phone or Facetime with others. Ask permission to do so if you think that will help you. Recording an office visit or conversation without consent will not build trust with your healthcare team and may be illegal. 
  • Ask your doctor for resources, such as handouts or brochures, so you can learn about your condition and treatment options. Your doctor may draw you pictures or provide you with key points to consider. Your doctor may also refer you to a trustworthy website, like OrthoInfo, for more information.

For further information about planning for your appointment with an orthopaedic surgeon: Getting the Most Out of Your Doctor's Visit

Participate in Decisions About Your Health Care

You are the center and a critical member of your healthcare team. Work with your doctor and other healthcare professionals to participate in all decisions about your care.

  • Understand your treatment plan and discuss it fully with your doctor and medical team. Make sure you can answer questions about your diagnosis and care, such as:
    • What is my diagnosis?
    • What are my treatment options (nonsurgical and surgical)?
    • If surgery is needed, which procedure is recommended?
    • How long will treatment last?
    • Will I need to stay overnight in the hospital for any part of my treatment?
    • How should I feel during and after treatment?
    • What are the expected results?
    • What are the potential side effects?

Ask questions about your treatment plan and the role you play in your care.

For further information about how to actively participate in your treatment: Patients Are Important Members of the Healthcare Team

Preparing for Surgery

When we have surgery, we put ourselves completely in the hands of highly trained doctors, nurses, and hospital staff. However, studies show that patients who understand their procedure and have a clear understanding of reasonable expectations are more likely to have better outcomes.

  • Talk to your healthcare team about the surgery and your hospital stay. Some examples of helpful questions to ask your surgeon include:
    • What, specifically, will be done during the procedure?
    • What are the benefits and risks of this surgery?
    • What are the possible complications, and how likely are they to occur?
    • Are there tests or other medical evaluations needed before surgery? How, when, and where do I do them?
    • Is this an open or arthroscopic procedure?
    • Will I need general anesthesia (meaning the patient goes to sleep) or can the procedure be done using a local anesthesia (a specific part of the body is numbed)?
    • What should I expect after surgery? What will be my recovery time?
    • Are there alternatives to this surgery that I need to consider?
    • How much experience do you have with this procedure?

If your doctor recommends surgery, be sure to openly share all your medical information with your healthcare team.

  • Be sure to provide your healthcare team with a list of all the medications you take — including prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, and vitamins and supplements. You may need to stop taking certain medications before your surgery. It is particularly important before surgery that your care team knows whether you take a blood thinner medication or diabetes medications.
  • Talk to your doctor about any allergies you know about or have experienced.
  • If you or any family member had problems with anesthesia in the past, make sure your doctor knows.
  • Whether you are having outpatient (same-day) surgery or need to be admitted to the hospital, take steps before surgery to help you manage your return home. For example:
    • Arrange for help with daily tasks like shopping, meal preparation, laundry, and pet care.
    • If your mobility will be limited while you heal, prepare your home by rearranging furniture (for instance, setting up a first-floor bedroom to avoid having to use stairs), removing rugs, and adding items like safety bars in the bathroom.
    • Talk to your doctor's office about finding assistive items such as dictation apps, shoehorns, or long-handled reaching devices.
    • Pre-arrange for transportation to and from any follow-up visits or therapy appointments.

For further information about preparing for surgery:

Questions to Ask Your Doctor Before Surgery

Patient Guide to Safe Surgery

Preventing Medical Errors

Medical errors often could have been prevented. Safety measures can be implemented and adhered to at all levels of the healthcare system — from doctors and hospital staff to patients and insurance providers — to help ensure a safe health care system.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) takes patient safety very seriously.

In 1998, the AAOS kicked off the campaign "Sign Your Site," which calls for a national effort among surgeons, hospitals, and other healthcare providers to mark the operative site with their initials in order to prevent wrong-site surgeries. Since that time, raising awareness among the general public about wrong-site surgery has been an ongoing AAOS initiative, and with several public service messages produced over the years.

On the day of surgery, you should expect your surgeon to accurately and clearly mark the surgical site.

The AAOS also has an active Patient Safety Committee that continually develops programs to improve patient safety on national, state, and local levels. In addition, the AAOS works with other healthcare organizations and government agencies to measure and improve healthcare quality, and to ensure the accurate reporting of errors. The Academy supports the Speak Up Program, a collaborative effort between The Joint Commission and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to prevent healthcare errors.

Most recently, the AAOS has developed new safety programs for surgeons as part of its TeamSTEPPS Initiative. TeamSTEPPS (Team Strategies & Tools to Enhance Performance & Patient Safety) is a national training and support network created by the Department of Defense and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The goal of TeamSTEPPS is to produce highly effective medical teams that optimize the use of information, people, and resources to achieve the best clinical outcomes for their patients.

Last Reviewed

March 2023

Contributed and/or Updated by

Nina R. Lightdale-Miric, MD, FAAOS

Peer-Reviewed by

Thomas Ward Throckmorton, MD, FAAOS

AAOS does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products, or physicians referenced herein. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific orthopaedic advice or assistance should consult his or her orthopaedic surgeon, or locate one in your area through the AAOS Find an Orthopaedist program on this website.