What is the July Effect?
Every July, thousands of medical school students begin residencies, giving them the opportunity for increased responsibility involving patient care. After years of classroom learning, newly graduated doctors are working on real patients in hospital internships.
Many believe that the influx of new, inexperienced medical residents correlates to the number of increased medical errors that could put patients’ lives in jeopardy. This hypothesis is known as the “July Effect.”
According to one study, medication errors increased by 10% during the month of July within teaching hospitals.
Why this dangerous spike in medical errors? And are they preventable?
Patients with doctor appointments in July may protect themselves from errors by heeding some simple tips located at the end of this article.
Causes Behind the July Effect
Within teaching hospitals, the Chief Resident is responsible for providing residents, interns, and student doctors with training in the real-world application of their classroom skills. New doctors will have a first-time experience for nearly every standard medical procedure—performing a surgery, prescribing a medication and diagnosing an illness. The stitches you just received might have been placed by a first-year intern, final year resident or a student who may never become a surgeon.
The truth is, a doctor may be trying something for the first time during his or her internship or residency. Your doctor might seem confident but in reality, may not even know where to make an initial incision.
However, inexperienced doctors are not wholly to blame for medical errors that occur in July.
Other contributing factors to the “July Effect” are sleep deprivation and a lack of labor regulations in hospitals.
- Sleep Deprivation: Residents get very little sleep, mostly due to understaffing, which can lead to poor decision making, inattentiveness, irritability, frustration and many other emotions that can cause a potential medical error.
- Lack of Labor Regulations: When teaching hospitals recently acknowledged that sleep-deprived doctors were making significant mistakes, hospitals instituted an 80-hour work week cap for students and residents. However, some hospitals found a way around this by covertly telling students not to log work hours. Because of this, student doctors may work beyond the limitation with unreported hours.
Proof of the July Effect
The “July Effect,” is a much-debated topic in the medical community. While many medical professionals claim this phenomenon doesn’t exist, scientific studies have proven otherwise.
In 2011, six doctors conducted a review of the “July Effect” and published their findings in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The study focused on patients who died due to medication errors and incorporated data of over 62 million patients from 1979 to 2006. The study concluded that inexperienced medical staff contributed to July’s spike in mortality rates.
Medication errors aren’t the only spike in the study. Experts concluded that the number of returning outpatients for bad stitches, post-operative infections, or admission to long-term care facilities also rises in July.
How to Protect Yourself in July
Every new doctor across the U.S. begins residency in July.
Do you have a procedure or medical appointment approaching in July? The following tips can help you avoid potentially significant medical errors:
- Bring your own health records, including a personal medication record to reduce the risk of dangerous drug interactions. Have several copies of all medications you take, along with their dosage and reason for use.
- Ask a friend or relative to come with you. This will provide a second set of eyes and ears to help you understand your proposed treatment.
- State your name to lessen the chance of a mix-up.
- Know the doctor’s name who is in charge of your care. Make sure your lead provider is an experienced attending physician, not a resident or intern.
- Don’t schedule surgery in July. Avoid summer months for surgery when possible and wait until winter or spring when residents have a few months’ experience under their belts.
- Avoid university hospitals in July. If you are having an operation, ask your doctor to perform your surgery in a place that doesn’t focus on training residents.
- Ask lots of questions. It’s your right as a patient to understand the procedure and who will be performing your operation.
- Choose out-of-network physicians. In general, out-of-network doctors are reputed to spend more time with patients. In-network physicians, especially those who take Medicare, may take a pay-cut and may compensate the difference in their income by seeing more patients in a day compared with out-of-network doctors.
When to Contact an Attorney
If you or a loved one suffered medical injuries during the month of July, you may qualify for compensation if negligence can be traced to physician inexperience. If you lost a loved one due to negligent care, misdiagnosis, or a medication error, you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit.
Although a lawsuit cannot erase the damage done, it can help compensate you for the resulting financial burden. Compensation can help offset the cost of:
- Medical bills
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium
- Funeral costs
Injury or harm on behalf of a medical institution or physician may sometimes be traced to negligence. When it is, you may qualify for compensation the attorneys at Hodes Milman Ikuta have decades of experience helping victims who suffered due to medical malpractice. If you have suffered at the hands of a physician, our legal team wants to hear from you.
Our skilled attorneys can answer your questions and help you determine if a lawsuit is right for you. Call today at (949) 640-8222 for a no-obligation consultation and take the first step towards reclaiming your life.