Error in medicine is becoming a well recognized phenomenon. The U.S. Institute of Medicine's publication in 1999 included estimations that medical error is the eighth leading cause of death in the United States and results in up to 100,000 deaths annually. Retrospective studies and a few prospective studies are shedding more light on this challenging problem. Strategies to reduce error and increase patient safety have not been widely developed or embraced by surgeons for a variety of reasons. We provide a review on patient safety aimed at surgeons that includes definitions, incidence of errors including those in the surgical literature, causes of error, methods of error detection, and strategies to minimize errors and maximize patient safety.