July Effect May Be Overstated

July is the month when new medical residents first begin work in teaching hospitals. The ‘July Effect’ was the term given to the increase in medical mistakes that coincided with this introduction of inexperienced medical professionals. What started as a rumor was eventually confirmed by several studies: July was a dangerous time to be admitted to a teaching hospital. A new study has challenged previous results. According to the latest research, there may be no difference in the results experienced by patients admitted in July and those admitted in any other month.

The research looked at more than 500,000 patients who were admitted to teaching hospitals for spinal surgery. The study broke down the patients by race, age, the number of diagnoses, the type of admission and other factors. It then looked at hospital mortality rates, negative reactions to devices implanted and other criteria in determining how the patient fared. The most at-risk patients experienced the same results, regardless of the month they had their procedures. The only difference between July patients and those admitted in other months was that July patients had slightly elevated rates of hospital acquired infections and subsequent discharge to long-term care facilities.

Hospital safety is a matter of significant concern. The number of patients who suffer harm due to medical mistakes is extraordinary. The July Effect is one item that has been tied to medical mistakes. Inexperience is a common-sense cause of medical errors. It appears that the effect may be overstated, however.

Source: New York Times, “Focus on Hospitals’ ‘July Effect’,” by Nicholas Bakalar, 4 February 2013