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Is July really the most dangerous month to be a hospital patient?

This article looks at the so-called “July Effect” when patient deaths are rumored to spike at hospitals.

In the medical profession it is known as the "July Effect:" a midsummer phenomenon during which patient deaths at hospitals are said to spike. The most common explanation for the July Effect is that July is when many medical school graduates take up their residencies at teaching hospitals throughout the country, which in turn leads to an increase in hospital errors and a deterioration in patient care. In recent years, a number of studies have been conducted to verify whether the phenomenon is an urban legend or based in fact. So far, those studies have suggested evidence for and against the notion that the July Effect may be rooted in reality.

The midsummer spike

The July Effect is hardly a new concept. Medical professionals have long spoken about a perceived uptick in patient deaths during the summer months. July is when recent medical school graduates begin their residencies. That influx of inexperienced interns, the thinking goes, leads to an increase in hospital errors, which in turn leads to an increase in patient deaths and injuries.

Until recently while the July Effect was widely believed, but there wasn't much research to back it up. In 2010, however, a study did find some data suggesting an increase in medication errors during July. According to ABC News, that study found that, based on death certificates from 1979 to 2006, fatal medication errors increased by 10 percent in July in counties throughout the country that had a high number of teaching hospitals. While that study could not make a direct connection to the spike in medication errors with the influx of interns, it did provide some evidence backing up the July Effect.

Just an urban legend?

At the same time, however, other studies have suggested that the July Effect may be rooted more in myth than reality. According to MedPage Today, for example, a Harvard Medical School study found that patient outcomes in the intensive care unit were no different during July than other times of the year.

Whether the July Effect is an urban legend or a real risk for patients, it should serve as a reminder to patients and their families to always be vigilant when seeking medical care. Patients should ask questions of their doctors and nurses and, if something doesn't feel right, they should not be afraid of challenging their doctor's opinion.

Medical malpractice

Regardless of the time of year, medical errors are a serious concern and one of the leading preventable causes of death in the United States. For those who may have been harmed by a medical professional's alleged negligence or recklessness, it is important to contact a medical malpractice attorney today. An experienced attorney can help patients understand their rights and potentially help them pursue a claim for financial compensation.