Think that serious medical malpractice cases are few and far between? Think again. Reports show that medical mistakes are actually the No. 3 leading cause of death for people in the United States on an annual basis.

1 out of 10

All told, reports estimate the yearly death toll from medical errors to sit right around 250,000. That’s a million people every four years. It means that about one out of every 10 deaths in the U.S. happens because of medical malpractice. If you know 10 people who have passed away, odds are at least one of them died due to an avoidable hospital error.

To put this into proper context, the leading killers in the United States are heart disease and cancer, in that order. Medical malpractice is next.

Not car accidents. Not shootings. Not other diseases. Not birth injuries. It’s medical malpractice that poses such an incredible risk.

The public does not know

If this report and these statistics feel stunning, it’s because experts call this an “under-recognized epidemic.” In short, the public really does not know what the risks look like. People assume that America is a developed country with some of the best medical care options in the world. They trust doctors and support staff. They feel like science has stepped up and provided new ways to beat both injuries and disease.

This isn’t entirely untrue. Medical advancements over the decades have been nothing short of stunning in many areas. On a grand scale, entire diseases that used to be a death sentence have gotten wiped out. New treatments constantly come out even for the most challenging issues of today, like cancer. This has saved lives. It continues to do so.

Now just think how many lives could be saved if doctors stopped making preventable mistakes. They have the tools. They have the treatment options. They have the training. If things went perfectly, we would really feel like we were making strides.

Negligence and mistakes

The true problem is negligence. Those who ran the recent study pointed to “system-wide failings and poorly coordinated care.” Miscommunication is a huge issue. Simple mistakes — like accidentally giving a patient the wrong medication — take lives.

These are human issues, not issues with science or medical care in general. A hospital may have the proper medication on hand, but that does not help if the patient gets the wrong one. It doesn’t help if the patient gets the wrong dose. The United States is a world leader in some of these fields, but negligence and errors still lead to far too many deaths.

It is important for those who have lost loved ones to know all of the options they have.