One of America’s greatest ironies is that doctors often do more harm than good when treating their patients. News agencies, Georgia patients and even some government departments now lay the opioid crisis at the feet of the health care industry. They believe that doctors and big players in the pharmaceutical industry knowingly encouraged patients to take opioids to treat pain while misleading them about the potential for addiction.

Yet, unless you or your loved ones have taken these medications, it is not the opioid crisis that you need to worry about. CNBC estimates that the third-leading cause of death is another accusation made against doctors: medical errors. It cited a study claiming that as many as 440,000 people in America may die from medical errors on an annual basis. Some statistics put the death rate at 250,000 instead.

You may wonder what causes the discrepancy. It results from the difficulty in identifying what cases resulted from medical errors. Medical staff may try to cover their tracks. The facility may also not follow procedures or take notes that help investigators to track what really went wrong. Finally, autopsy reports often put vague reasons for cause of death and do not typically note if a medical error was the potential reason.

If you or someone you know has surgery soon or will be treated for an illness, there are steps you can take to try to protect yourself. The first is to ask as many questions as possible. Try to get a good understanding of what they plan to do, why they want to do it and how that may interfere with preexisting health conditions or prescriptions. Whenever possible, seek a second opinion. Finally, always bring an advocate along to speak on your behalf and fact-check information when you are unable to do so.

This article shares information on medical errors. It should not be used as or in place of medical or legal advice.