When a person requires medical attention or care, they often have no choice but to trust that the advice, procedures or medications they receive are right for them. Medical professionals are held to incredibly rigorous standards, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of making dangerous – or even deadly – mistakes if they aren’t careful. Unfortunately, these mistakes are more common than you’d think.

According to a 2018 Johns Hopkins study, more than 250,000 Americans die every year due to medical errors. After heart disease and cancer, this makes medical errors the third leading cause of death in the United States. Even more alarmingly, separate studies claim the number of deaths from medical errors could be as high 440,000 people per year – nearly double the amount of the Johns Hopkins study.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rely on death certificates to determine the national statistics for death. According to CNBC, physicians, coroners, medical examiners and funeral directors rarely list “medical error” as the cause of death on a death certificate, meaning medical errors could be responsible for more deaths than previously thought.

How can patients protect themselves from medical errors?

  • Ask questions: As a patient, it’s vital that you gather as much information as possible from your health care provider about a recommended medication or treatment. Ask about the benefits, side effects and risks of a procedure. You can also research your condition online or connect with others on social media who have the same condition to learn more.
  • Seek a second opinion: A good doctor won’t try to persuade from seeking a second or even third opinion on their medical advice. If you have any doubts or circumstances warrant it, you should never hesitate to speak with another doctor, surgeon, or qualified medical professional.
  • Bring someone with you: It can be beneficial to bring a family member or friend to your appointment if you need someone to advocate for you. A trusted individual can help you ask your doctor the right questions and process information.
  • Download a health care app: Today, just about everything is now digitized, including your medical records. Today, countless health care apps allow you to keep your medical information on you at all times. By keeping these records with you, you can help to prevent potentially dangerous medical errors.

By empowering yourself to stay vigilant about your health care, you can help your doctors avoid potentially dangerous medical errors. Advocating for yourself and your health may just be what saves your life.