Hospitals Hazardous in July

July 02, 2008 09:03 AM
by Erin Harris
A Harvard study found July to be the most dangerous month to visit a hospital, citing the arrival of inexperienced interns. Other recent hospital problems may worsen this annual phenomenon.

30-Second Summary

July 1 marks the beginning of the academic year for medical students. But instead of hitting the books, they’re hitting the hospitals.

With the annual influx of new interns, many experts believe that July is the riskiest time of the year for hospital patients, who are susceptible to the mistakes of new medical staff.

A study of this trend, conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, concluded “the July medical-training period is associated with between 1,500 and 2,750 accelerated deaths every year.” Opposing studies, however, have found no clinical evidence for the so-called “July Phenomenon.”

Medical students not only have to deal with their new responsibility of working with patients, but they must also acclimate to the nuances of their assigned hospital and a demanding work schedule.

A study by researchers at Harvard Medical School found that overworked interns’ long hours and extended shifts may be responsible for the high rate of accidents that occur when they join a medical staff.

Fortunately, Jay Bhattacharya, a professor at Stanford Medical School, points out that “the mistakes newbie doctors make by and large involve unnecessary tests and longer hospital stays, errors that aren’t typically life-threatening.”

Regardless of whether or not they pose a serious health risk, “fresh, green interns” may not be the only reason to avoid the hospital this summer.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), an antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria, killed three children in the United States late last year. Today hospital employees are helping the infection spread even faster by neglecting to wash their hands properly in the workplace.

Headline Link: Everyone makes mistakes

Opinion & Analysis: The ‘July Phenomenon’

Background: Overworked interns

Related Topics: MRSA spreads through hospitals

References: Patient safety advice


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