Even though we trust our doctors and other medical professionals to get things right, the reality is that they make mistakes just like everyone else. However, there is one very big difference between medical mistakes made by doctors and mistakes made by everyone else: medical mistakes can cost people their lives.

In fact, according to one 2016 study published in the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal), medical errors claim as many as 250,000 lives every year in the United States — making it the third leading cause of death, behind only cancer and heart disease.

Given the life-threatening dangers associated with medical errors, patients need to make sure to do everything possible to protect themselves from medical mistakes, particularly when going in for a surgery. With that in mind, here are five tips from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality — a part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services — you can use as a patient to help prevent surgical errors:

  • Make sure that you, your doctor and surgeon all confer and agree on exactly what is going to be completed during your procedure.
  • If you have the option, choose a hospital where many patients have already had the procedure you need.
  • Always speak up if you have concerns. After all, you have a right to question your care.
  • Make sure your doctor, surgeon and other medical professionals know about every medication you are currently taking, including supplements and vitamins.
  • Make sure all of your doctors and surgeons have all of your important health information. Never assume that they all automatically have the information they need.

Keep in mind, however, these are merely a few of the many tips you can use as a patient to help avoid medical mistakes and surgical errors. Also, while these tips can go a long way towards protecting your well-being, the sad reality is that there is no way to absolutely guarantee that you or a loved one will never suffer at the hands of a negligent doctor or careless medical professional. If this happens, you need to know that victims of medical malpractice do have rights under the law.