Medical malpractice is surprisingly common in Iowa and across the U.S. Statistics are somewhat hard to come by, in part because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) doesn’t separately list medical error as a cause of death in its annual report.
Beyond that, the statistics are somewhat controversial and it is difficult to know whether every death actually caused by a medical error is attributed correctly. Nevertheless, experts agree that medical errors are common enough that patients should be concerned.
Not all medical errors constitute medical malpractice. Actionable medical malpractice occurs when a doctor or healthcare provider fails to meet the standard expected of a professional in their community and a patient is injured.
A 2016 study by patient safety experts at Johns Hopkins University estimated that about 250,000 Americans die each year as a result of medical errors. That put medical errors as the third leading cause of death in the United States at that time (before the pandemic).
Other studies have estimated that between 98,000 and 440,000 Americans die each year from medical errors. Millions more are seriously harmed.
Specifically regarding Iowa, a 2017 poll by the Heartland Health Research Institute found that as many as one in five Iowans have experienced medical errors. Of those who had, 60% said they had suffered serious health consequences as a result. 90% thought the medical error was preventable.
That survey also found that 95% of Iowa adults thought hospitals should be required to report medical errors to a state agency, which they currently do not have to do. And, 98% thought that health care providers who make mistakes should tell their patients that they did.
Another study estimated that perhaps 4,300 Iowans die and another 112,000 are injured by medical errors each year.
What can patients do?
Since you’re not a medical expert, it’s hard to know what to do to prevent medical errors or respond if they do happen. The most important thing you can do is get a clear understanding of what to expect and then ask questions when you do not know what is happening.
Whenever you meet with a doctor, make sure they see a complete list of all the medications and over-the-counter supplements you’re taking. If they write a prescription, make sure you can read it.
If a doctor orders a medical test, make sure you understand why and what to expect.
If you need surgery or a similar procedure, be sure you understand and agree. If you’re not sure, get a second opinion.
Before you schedule your procedure, check hospital ratings and try to choose a hospital or clinic with good ratings.
If you experience an outcome from your medical care that you did not expect, ask questions. If you can’t get the answers you need, talk to a medical malpractice attorney.