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Surgical and medical errors: Understand the risks you really face

Your doctor tells you, before you go in for surgery, that there are certain risks that go along with the procedure. You nod your head, thinking you understand. You've always been told that surgery is risky.

But do you really know the type of risks that you face? Many people do not. It's very important to understand the role that medical mistakes play in this situation and how they could put you in danger -- and potentially take your life.

After all, researchers have discovered that medical mistakes cause about 10 percent of all of the deaths in the United States every year. That makes them, stunningly, the third leading cause of death.

They also note that these issues are under-recognized by the general public. People have a small perception of risk; while they technically know there are dangers, they don't really grasp how often patients lose their lives.

Think of it this way: You know how dangerous driving is. You worry about car accidents and you try to protect yourself. But car accidents do not take as many lives as medical mistakes. The only things that rank above medical errors are cancer (No. 1) and heart disease (No. 2). That's it. Anything else that you worry about -- crime, disease, natural disasters -- is less likely to kill you than a medical mistake.

This may not mean you can avoid surgery. It's often necessary -- hopefully, everything will go well if you do have to have it. But you need to know the risks you face, and your family members need to know what steps they should take to hold someone accountable if you pass away due to a needless surgical error.

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