Study Says Hospital Mortality Rates Spike In July

A new study says mortality rates go up in July when med students enter teaching hospitals as interns.

Doctor image via shutter stock

Doctor image via shutterstock

There is always speculation about times of the year when doctors don’t provide the best possible medical care. The superstitions about the dangerous days and months of the year vary, but a new Harvard Medical School study confirms that July is the worst month to seek medical attention; you might end up in an exam room with an intern on their first day.

Every July, medical students complete their academic training and begin the long process of their practical training, which includes an internship and a residency. This is a process that sounds familiar, if you’ve ever watched Grey’s Anatomy, but no one wants to be the patient on the table on Meredith’s first day. Unfortunately, according to a new study, July is when you are most likely to be a victim of a new doctor’s mistake.

The study, conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School, Stanford University Hospitals, and the University of Southern California, examined mortality rates throughout the year, and focused specifically on spikes in July.

Researchers analyzed cases from more than 1,400 hospitals nationwide and divided them into high-risk patients or low-risk patients.

Dr. Anupam Jena, lead author of the study and assistant professor of health care policy and medicine at Harvard Medical School said in a report:

“The good news for patients is that in most cases, it’s very difficult for a physician to make a mistake that results in a patient’s death. But for severely ill patients, health can be very tenuous. A small error or a very slight delay in care is potentially devastating.”

Throughout the year, the study found that patients at teaching hospitals have a lower chance of dying than at non-teaching hospitals. However, in July, the rate of mortalities at teaching hospitals rises to the same rate as the non-teaching hospitals. High-risk patients’ chances go up from 20 to 25 percent between May and July at teaching hospitals. The study also discovered that the teaching hospitals with the highest number of trainees have higher mortality rates, proving that the so-called “July effect” is, to a certain extent, real.

The research team concluded that in July, when more trainees are working, doctors with greater experience should be playing larger supervisory roles with high-risk patients than normal.

Jena, in the same report said, “Teaching hospitals should revisit what steps are needed to safely and effectively care for high-risk patients in July.”