Medical errors are widespread in hospitals, with upwards of 250,000 people dying each year. These errors include things like deadly infections, blood clots, breathing problems or even objects left inside a patient after surgery.

Some hospitals are safer than others, and patients should evaluate hospital ratings like the hospital safety score, hospital compare and consumer reports to find a safer hospital for themselves and their families. But it’s important to remember that no hospital is perfectly safe, and even in the best hospitals mistakes still happen and people get hurt.

Well-intentioned doctors, nurses and other care providers work hard every day to prevent errors by taking steps like careful handwashing to prevent infections, using technology to enter prescriptions in order to reduce medication errors, and carefully observing and moving patients to prevent falls and deadly bed sores.

Despite this, it is critically important that patients also be proactive to protect themselves in the hospital. There are three key steps all patients should take:

1. Bring a family member or friend

This goes for both check-in and discharge from the hospital. Patients should asked their loved one to visit every day. This way, even when the patient is not feeling well, this person can be alert, ask questions, provide important information and step in if there are any problems.

2. Be alert and say something

During a hospital stay, the patient or his or her loved one should take notes to keep track of what’s happening. For example, they should check to see if each and every person caring for the patients washes their hand first. One way to bring this up is, “I may have missed this, but did you wash your hands?”

3. Know your medications

This includes how much the patient is supposed to be taking and why they are taking the medication. Patients should bring a list of all current medications to the hospital with them so that their doctor can make sure there won’t be a harmful interaction with something new he or she may prescribe. If a pill or amount of medicine looks different one day, patients should speak up and ask why to make sure they aren’t being given something by mistake.

When health care providers work together to prevent errors, it’s easier to catch mistakes before they cause harm. Patients are an important part of the health care team, and staying vigilant during a hospital stay can greatly reduce the likelihood of a bad outcome.

All patients deserve to leave the hospital healthier than when they arrived. By telling their care providers that staying safe is important to them and working hand-in-hand, patients and providers can ensure a hospital stay free from harm and error.