Do you know what causes more deaths in the U.S. than strokes, Alzheimer’s or diabetes? The answer may surprise you. A recent study found that medical errors are now the third leading cause of death in the United States. Putting your faith in the medical system is unsettling when dangerous mistakes can occur in virtually any healthcare setting.

There are countless ways that medical errors can happen. Some of the most common mistakes that health providers make include:

  • Misdiagnosis or failure to diagnosis
  • Avoidable delay in treatment
  • Failure to act on test results
  • Failure to monitor after a procedure
  • Failure to take proper precautions
  • Technical errors

By understanding how medical errors occur, patients can take the necessary precautions to protect their health and well-being from serious mistakes.

The root causes of medical errors

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, these are the main contributors to medical errors in the healthcare system:

  • Communication issues: Whether verbal or written, communication breakdowns are the most common cause of medical errors. Important details can get lost in translation between doctors, nurses, pharmacists and more.
  • Poor information flow: Information flow is essential to healthcare settings. Inadequate information flow can result in crucial information about the patient getting lost.
  • Human error: Doctors are humans who also make mistakes. Human errors can include writing something down wrong or not having proficient knowledge to treat a patient’s condition.
  • Inadequate staffing or policies: While staffing issues alone don’t result in medical errors, it can put doctors in situations where they are more likely to slip up. Inadequate procedures or a lack of internal processes can also lead to medical errors.
  • Technical errors: Technical issues or failures can include problems with medical devices, grafts or other pieces of medical equipment.

To avoid serious medical errors, patients should try to take a more active role in their healthcare to protect themselves from grave mistakes. Always be sure to ask your physician questions if you do not understand something they tell you. Knowing the medications you take and your medical history can help you advocate for yourself at your next appointment.