Did you know that more than 250,000 deaths per year are due to medical errors in the U.S.? That’s according to a 2016 John Hopkins study published in The BJM. This figure, according to patient safety experts and now with consideration of COVID-19, is the fourth leading cause of death. Some may argue that this number is inflated and dependent on medical specialty and location in the United States, however, what cannot be disputed is that we have a very flawed health care system.

There are clear disparities in the quality of healthcare and access to treatment. Deep-seated historical racism, social injustice and implicit biases have significantly contributed to patients being misdiagnosed, under-treated and sometimes dissuaded people from coming into the emergency room in the first place.

My Dad, a retired serviceman, died in a local community hospital of a massive heart attack. I remember hearing chaos behind the glass windows when I went to visit him in the emergency room. Confusion, inattentiveness, poorly coordinated care, communication breakdown and lack of resources left a bad taste in my mouth. I truly believe if different steps were taken, and certain guard rails had been in place, he could still be here today.

My father’s passing is what led me to the path of wanting to become the best cardiac nurse in the world. I thought if I could just make changes in the healthcare system then I could prevent the next family from having the same experience. Talk about trying to move mountains!

So, my goal here is to raise your awareness as to what really happens, provide you with a realistic perspective on the emergency room and equip you with tangible ways to receive better treatment that can be the difference between life and death. In honor of National Minority Health Month, it is important to acknowledge and call out the systemic racism and broken processes people of color face in our current health system.

So why else should you care about any of this? About 2 in every 5 Americans will visit the ER each year. Some will be admitted, but a majority will be sent home. And while that sounds good, a Harvard Medical School study published in 2017, found that about 10,000 people die each year in that first week after being sent home from the ER.

So, here are five ways to protect yourself in the ER.