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Don't Schedule Elective Surgery For July!

2010 study from the University of California San Diego shows that the number of deaths from medication errors in hospitals stayed the same for 11 months of the year but spiked significantly in the month of July. The study confirms a long held suspicion within the medical profession that July, the month when hospitals take in a new influx of medical residents, is the worst time to schedule any type of surgery. The reason for the medical errors stems from the fact that these new residents have little experience of which even the smallest of mistakes can result in fatalities, especially when there are medication errors.

ABC news recently ran a story (June 3, 2010) citing this study and found that patients were more likely to die of medication errors during the month of July at university teaching hospitals where new medical interns and residents were routinely assigned.This is consistent with the tremendously high turn over in hospital support staff during July, complicated by the inexperience of its new medical residents.Few interns or interns are added into the hospital setting during the other 11 months of the year, but rather they arrive all at once, after graduating from medical school each June.

The study was published in The Journal Of General Internal Medicine and consisted of 20 years worth of data (1976-2009), which included 62 million patients at hospitals throughout the United States.It recorded 244, 388 deaths in teaching hospitals attributed to medication errors.One’s chance of being the victim of a medication error was equally distributed over the other eleven months; however, in July it soared, when one’s chances increased by ten percent.Hospitals that were not associated with university teaching hospitals did not see the same “July Effect.”Allergic reactions from medications were not included in the study, nor medication errors found after the patient left the hospital.

The moral of this story: Do NOT schedule elective surgery at a university hospital during the month of July.