Do medical errors increase during summer months?

Popular wisdom is an interesting thing–it tends to be based on observation rather than scientific testing. But, interestingly, in many cases, once experiments are run to test the truth of a particular hypothesis, it turns out to be true.

Such is the case with the longstanding, but unsubstantiated belief that medical errors increase in July. This theory is based in large part on the influx of new medical residents, fresh out of medical school. And, it makes sense, since residents are doctors in training and first year residents have minimal experience handling their own cases. It takes time–and experience–to become a good doctor. It stands to reason that inexperienced doctors are more likely to make mistakes and first year residents are the most inexperienced doctors out there.

Until recently, the belief that medical errors spiked mid-summer occurred was simply a theory. However, as recently reported in a New York Times article, a new study substantiates what is commonly referred to as the “July effect.” As explained in the article, the study confirms the long held belief that July isn’t exactly the best month to be hospitalized:

The paper, published Tuesday in Annals of Internal Medicine, is believed to be the first systematic review of the data from previous studies. While the analysis found inconsistencies among nearly 40 studies examined, the data produced by the largest and best-designed ones indicated that patient death rates in teaching hospitals increase by 8 percent in July.

Those studies also reported longer hospital stays, more drawn-out procedures and higher hospital charges in July, when 20 to 30 percent of the more experienced doctors-in-training leave and a class of newly minted doctors starts working at teaching hospitals, said Dr. John Q. Young, the paper’s lead author…

Medical errors happen–and it’s now confirmed that they happen more frequently each year in July. That errors occur is unfortunate and inevitable. Physicians are only human. But, the lesson to be learned it that it would be wise to avoid summer hospitalizations, if at all possible. Doing so will arguably reduce the potential for medical errors and the possibility of having to file a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Howard Ankin of Ankin Law Office LLC (www.ankinlaw.com) handles workers’ compensation and personal injury cases. Mr. Ankin can be reached at (312) 600-0000 and howard@ankinlaw.com.