Researchers from the University of California, San Diego recently published a study in the June issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine, examining the myth of the “July Effect”—a legend that considers July a dangerous month for hospital patients to undergo treatment.
The study found that fatal medication errors in hospitals are at their highest in July, especially in teaching hospitals. July is reportedly the month when recent medical students graduates report to residencies in teaching hospitals and are given new responsibilities for patient care.
In their research, Dr. David Phillips and Gwendolyn Barker studied the relationship between medication error and inexperience in July, when thousands of medical residents begin their residencies. The research focused on the changes in the total number of medication mistakes; which includes medicine given and taken in error, accidental drug overdose, accidental medication errors in medical and surgical procedures, and drugs taken accidentally.
The study inspected 244,388 death certificates across the country, focusing on fatal medication errors that were recorded as the primary cause of death between 1979 and 2006—comparing the July death numbers with the number of events that are expected in any month in any year.
The authors of the study found that medication errors that cause deaths were highest in July inside medical institutions—visible only in counties that have teaching hospitals for residencies. The number of deaths caused by medication mistakes in these counties were 10% above the expected level. There was reportedly no other similarity found for other causes of death or for fatalities outside the hospitals.
Phillips and Baker found that their results bring to light several issues for the medical community. They claim in their report that the new resident responsibilities need to be re-evaluated, new medical residents need to have increased supervision, and there needs to be increased education concerning medication safety for patients. The researchers found that by making these changes, wrongful deaths and non-fatal medication errors might be reduced, along with major costs that are associated with these kinds of errors.
Study Suggests Inexperienced Medical Staff Make Fatal Medication Errors, Society of General Internal Medicine Press Release, June 7, 2010
The ‘July Effect’: Worst Month for Fatal Hospital Errors, Study Finds, ABC News, June 3, 2010
Study: Fatal Medication Mistakes Surge in July, Time, June 2, 2010
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