Nightmare stories of nurses giving potent drugs meant for one patient to another and surgeons removing the wrong body parts have dominated recent headlines about medical care. Lest you assume those cases are the exceptions, a new study by patient safety researchers provides some context. Their analysis, published in the BMJ on Tuesday, shows that “medical errors” in hospitals and other health care facilities are incredibly common and may now be the third leading cause of death in the United States — claiming 251,000 lives every year, more than respiratory disease, accidents, stroke and Alzheimer’s.

Martin Makary, a professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who led the research, said in an interview that the category includes everything from bad doctors to more systemic issues such as communication breakdowns when patients are handed off from one department to another. READ MORE