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Is July the most dangerous month for medical malpractice?

The way that hospitals train doctors may be leading to medical mistakes and malpractice. In teaching hospitals, recent graduates, or medical residents, learn while practicing medicine under the supervision of more experienced doctors. Typically, a physician spends three to six years as a medical resident.

A phenomenon known as the "July effect" describes the annual pattern of experienced resident physicians leaving teaching hospitals only to be replaced by less experienced physicians who are recent graduates of medical schools.

Each year, there is a turnover of about 100,000 staff in teaching hospitals in the month of July. The departure of experienced doctors and the influx of inexperienced graduates have long been thought to have a detrimental effect on healthcare, and a recent study appears to confirm the existence of the "July effect."

According to the study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, the rate of patient deaths increases and healthcare efficiency drops each July. The study, led by Dr. John Young, looked at data from 39 previous studies and tracked the rate of medical errors, surgical complications and patient deaths. The researchers found that death rates increase by at least 8 percent in the month of July.

Most people do not have the luxury of being able to choose when they have a medical emergency. However, as this research demonstrates, people who need to go to the hospital during July often receive substandard healthcare.

It would be easy to chalk the "July effect" up to bad timing, but the truth of the matter is that patients deserve quality healthcare no matter what month of the year it is. Hospitals and medical professionals owe patients a duty to provide competent and effective healthcare. When a medical mistake happens and patients are injured as a result, those patients have the right to be compensated for their injuries.

Source: Time, "The July Effect: Why Summer is the Most Dangerous Time to Go to the Hospital," Alice Park, 12 July 2011

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