Since the introduction of the first National Arthroplasty Register in Sweden in 1975, many other countries have tried to adopt the successful Scandinavian system. However, not all have overcome the political and practical difficulties of establishing a working register. We have surveyed the current registries to establish the key factors required for an effective database. We have received detailed information from 15 arthroplasty registers worldwide. The legal conditions under which they operate together with the methods of collection and handling of the data differ widely, but the fulfilment of certain criteria is necessary achieve a high degree of completeness of the data to ensure the provision of statistically relevant information.