Each July, major staffing changes take place in teaching hospitals in Chicago and all across the country. Freshly-graduated medical school students start their new positions as interns. During this time, those who have completed training and resident programs move on to new roles and begin providing care to patients without being managed by well-seasoned medical professionals.
Anyone who has ever started a new position in any profession knows how easy it is to make a mistake. This is no different when it comes to doctors. According to some studies, July is a dangerous month for patients to seek medical treatment. Research has shown that medical errors increase when doctors start new roles. One study even suggests that July surgeries are more than 80 percent deadlier for spine cancer patients compared to surgeries performed in June or August.
Doctors at every experience level are responsible year-round for quality patient care. Some analysts think even highly-experienced doctors may be prone to making errors during any patient visit due to “cognitive biases.” Highly-experienced physicians may know what works and what doesn’t work in patient treatment based on past experiences. But experience can also be a stumbling block when doctors fall into certain mental traps.
According to two medical professionals, doctors can make mistakes year-round when they let past experiences or biases get in the way of how they treat each patient. Some doctors are guilty of “anchoring” an early diagnosis, convinced a first assessment is true no matter what new information discredits it.
Some physicians will treat a patient for an originally-suspected condition or illness in contradiction to test results that point to an incorrect diagnosis. The doctors are convinced no other diagnosis is possible. In other cases, doctors might order tests to rule out serious conditions but fail to continue to investigate what could be causing a patient’s symptoms.
Doctors may also blur patient conditions. Two different patients with identical but common symptoms may be diagnosed with the same condition, only because both patients were treated around the same time as each other.
Some studies support the idea that doctor inexperience in July can cause harm to patients. But experience may be just as damaging when doctors lose the ability to recognize “cognitive biases” that prevent them from providing quality health care during any time of the year.
Source: CNN Health, “The ‘July effect’: Why experienced doctors may not deliver the best care,” Dr. Zachary F. Meisel and Dr. Jesse M. Pines, July 12, 2012