Surgery Safety Checklists

Even “routine” surgery has risks: trust but verify — ask lots of questions!

Get Good Info About Your Surgery

Choose a Surgeon with the More Care Than You Choose Your Next Car

Unless it’s an emergency situation, you’re in the driver’s seat more than you know. Surgeons and hospitals have differing levels of expertise and success.

Every patient has the right to “shop around” because every surgery carries risk. Knowing how to minimize risks for best-case results will lend peace of mind that  surgery  won’t be a lemon.

Peace of Mind

Help Your Loved One Get Good Information

  • Try to go to all doctor visits with your loved one. Bring a list of questions and concerns. Take good notes.
    • Ask: “What are some alternatives to surgery?”
    • For every diagnosis, ask “What else could it be?”
  • Urge your loved one to get an independent 2nd opinion – maybe even a 3rd opinion. (Not from the doctor’s friends or co-workers who may hesitate to second guess a colleague.)
    • Dig for more information on the Internet at reliable sites, sponsored by the government or leading health care associations.
    • Note: Internet information and other research – or advice from friends – does not take the place of seeing doctors!
  • Urge your loved one to talk to surgeons who have done “thousands” of the planned surgery, not “hundreds.” (May mean traveling to a different city if affordable.)
  • If surgery is not an emergency, urge your loved one to schedule it on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday (safest days for surgeries).
  • If possible, avoid July, August, and major holiday weeks when senior hospital staff have earned time off.
  • Schedule surgery for when the surgeon will be working and available to your loved one for several days afterward. (It’s OK to ask, “Planning a vacation?”)
  • Help make sure your loved one brings these surgery checklists to doctor visits. Go over them together. (If the surgeon objects to these safety checklists, consider finding another doctor!)
  • If the surgeon works at different hospitals, help your loved one find out which one has the best record for infection. (
  • Urge your loved one to talk to the surgeon about a screening MRSA test – a quick swab inside the nose. It’s a helpful test so the hospital will know to take some special steps if your loved one carries this germ.
  • Ask the surgeon to explain risks for surgery if your loved one smokes or drinks heavily. (Maybe advice for stopping or cutting back too?)
  • Ask for the doctor’s advice about diet and exercise to prep for surgery.

Prepare for Surgery

A lot of care goes into getting ready for surgery, an anxious time for most patients.  From tests to showering properly to gathering medications, help support these safe steps to a safe surgery.

Help Your Loved One Prepare for Surgery

  • Read the surgeon’s pre-surgery instructions. Help make sure your loved one follows these instructions “to the T!”
  • For 2 to 3 days before surgery, remind your loved one to shower with antibacterial hair and body soap, with a final shower just before going to the hospital. (Chlorhexidine soap is available at most drugstores – it’s effective.)
  • If your loved one is having surgery on a “twin organ” (like kidneys or lungs), or on an arm or leg, help avoid confusion over which side requires surgery.
    • Put a large piece of duct tape (or masking tape) over the side that should NOT be cut. Write a big, bold “NO!” on this tape for the side that should not be touched by the surgeon.
  • Keep your loved one warm. In cold weather, warm up the car first. Make sure hair is dry. Bring an extra sweater or other soft, warm clothing. (Hospitals have some very chilly areas.)
  • Fill out a medication record with your loved one. Bring it to the hospital with all of your loved one’s current medications.
  • Prepare to stay with your loved one 24/7 while hospitalized.
    • It’s OK to ask for help – organize “shifts” with other family members and friends.

Manage Communication the Day of Surgery

Every conversation with the medical team is important. Know the questions and topics to cover to make the most of their time and  expertise.

Know What to Do at the Hospital the Day of Surgery

Details to confirm:

  • Your loved one’s name
  • Procedure
  • Location (ask for it to be marked)
  • Current medications
  • Allergies
  • Last time your loved one had anything to eat or drink
  • Any other information the surgeon feels is important
  • How long the surgery will take
  • When you can expect updates during the surgery

Go over the safe surgery steps below to confirm the surgical team will:

  • Take a “Time Out” or “Huddle” just before the surgery to confirm correct patient correct procuedre and …
  • … Review your loved one’s medications, allergies and any other special conditions
  • Introduce team members to each other
  • Use a surgical checklist
  • Clip (not shave) hair that may need to be removed
  • Give an antibiotic on time (Who is responsible? What time?)
  • Keep your loved one warm
  • Provide additional oxygen

Recover from Surgery at Home

About 20% of patients end up back in the hospital within a month.[7] No one is 100% when they leave the hospital so create a good plan for care at home to prevent a hospital round trip!

Help Your Loved One Recover from Surgery

  • Wait in the hospital during surgery and sit beside your loved one in the recovery area.
  • Follow our checklists to help prevent infection, blood clots, bedsores, and other conditions.
  • Make sure your loved one is warm.
  • Begin planning for care at home.
  • Follow up on whether post-surgery antibiotics are given.
  • Ask the surgeon: Were there complications during surgery? If so, what were they?
  • Ask that a copy of the surgery notes be sent to your loved one’s home.

Get a Nurse if:

  • A monitor alarm goes off
  • Your loved one shows signs of (or tells you about):
  • Chills, shivering
  • Confusion
  • Extreme pain, moaning
  • Headache
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Any signs of distress
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Rapid breathing 
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