You already know that developing cancer or heart disease can lead to death, but did you know that going to the hospital can be almost as deadly? Medical errors have severe implications for Massachusetts patients and are currently the third most common cause of death.

This figure may be hard to believe. After all, medical professionals spend years in school studying and training so that they can safely treat patients. Despite years of education and new technology that promotes better oversight, medical errors still pose a serious threat to your health.

How serious is the problem?

A study from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine determined that medical errors cause over 250,000 deaths every year. However, the actual number may be much higher. Different studies put annual medical error deaths at 440,000.

No one is really sure of the exact number because those responsible for those errors — doctors, nurses and other medical workers — rarely report them. Even when physicians admit that they made an error which led to a patient’s death, it is never listed as the cause of death. For example, if a doctor’s mistake caused a patient to suffer a deadly heart attack, their official cause of death would list “heart attack,” not “medical error.”

Medical errors are broad

You might think of an error in terms of direct action — giving a patient too much medication, misreading test results or making a surgical error. In some cases, an error is the lack of action or information.

In 2002, a 19-year-old man died while out on a run. Although recently diagnosed with heart arrhythmia, his cardiologist never instructed the young man to stop running, and instead only told him to abstain from driving for a period of 24 hours. According to the man’s father, his death certificate cites heart arrhythmia as his cause of death.

Can I do anything about a loved one’s medical error?

Whether because of understaffed facilities, misjudgments, a system defect or more, watching a family member suffer because of a medical error is never easy. Although nothing can ever replace the life of a lost loved one, you can achieve justice on their behalf.

Medical malpractice suits can help grieving Massachusetts families who are seeking compensation after a medical error. Compensation achieved through successfully pursued claims are usually applied to the victim’s estate, which can help handle unexpected funeral costs and related expenses. This can relieve some of the financial pressure off surviving family members.