Medical errors the nation’s third-most common cause of death

When you have symptoms you cannot explain, you probably schedule a visit with your doctor with the hope that he or she will assess your condition and tell you what you need to do to get better. Like everyone else, though, doctors are prone to making mistakes, but when doctor make errors, the stakes are typically far higher than they are for the average person.

In some cases, a doctor’s mistake can mean the difference between life or death, and CNBC reports that medical errors have become so prevalent that they are the third-most-common cause of death among Americans. Following only behind heart disease and cancer, medical errors claim the lives of more than 250,000 people in the United States every year. Some believe, however, that this number is vastly underestimated, and that the actual number of lives lost annually due to medical mistakes is closer to 440,000.

Common types of medical errors

Medical mistakes can take on many different forms. In some cases, mistakes happen when doctors misdiagnose a patient’s condition, or when they diagnose a certain condition, but they do so too late and negatively impact a patient’s prognosis. In other cases, it is not the physicians at all who make mistakes, but others working in health care settings, such as nurses or health care technicians.

For example, some errors involve medication dosing issues. In many health care settings, it is pharmacy technicians, rather than trained pharmacists, compounding intravenous medications for patients. Many states do not regulate training for these individuals to make sure they know what they are doing. Other medical errors involve surgical mistakes, anesthesia errors, issues with patient monitoring and so on.

If you ever question the words or advice of your doctor, seek a second opinion. This is especially important if a doctor diagnoses you with something particularly serious or life-threatening.