Would you believe that medical mistakes kill enough people to fill 4 jumbo jets every week? In fact, 25 percent of all hospitalized patients are hurt by a medical error of some kind, from getting the wrong meds, to having surgery on the wrong body part. And medical mistakes are the 6th-leading cause of death in North America. 

But even though hospital errors are common, patients can’t find out whether a specific hospital has a good safety record, or a bad one. 

Author and surgeon Dr. Marty Makary says that most people choose a hospital for non-medical reasons. The top three: It’s close to home, a family member was treated there, and there’s convenient parking. But Dr. Makary believes hospital care could be improved dramatically. Here are his suggestions: 

  • First: Online ratings, like a Yelp guide for hospitals. Dr. Makary believes every hospital should have a page listing patient satisfaction scores, plus rates for infection, readmission, and surgical complications. When cardiac hospitals in New York began getting online grades, death rates dropped 83 percent! 

  • What else would make hospitals safer? Encouraging nurses to speak up when they see a doctor about to make a mistake. Dr. Makary says that nurses often don’t speak up because they’re too worried they’ll get screamed at, reported for insubordination, or fired. But he thinks the focus should be on the patient.

  • Then there’s videotaping procedures. Studies show that doctors perform better when they know someone’s watching their work. 

  • Finally: Dr. Makary recommends that every doctor and hospital use a program called Open Notes. It allows patients to go online to see what the doctor wrote in their file, and make corrections, or add details they forgot to mention. At the hospitals that give patients access to their doctor’s notes, like Harvard and Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, all the patients and doctors love it.