In the month of July, a new batch of first year medical residents walk through the doors of academic hospitals around the country. Unfortunately those same hospitals see the rate of medication errors rise exponentially, contributing to what has been dubbed “the July effect.” You may want to ask “is July a Bad Month to go to the Hospital?”
A study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that teaching hospitals experience a sharp increase in medication errors like clockwork every July – which just happens to coincide with the arrival of new residents and the departure of many of the seasoned staff members.
The study also found that the number of surgical errors at the teaching hospitals did not increase with the number of medication errors. The reason for this is because first year residents do not perform surgeries, but they do write prescriptions, leading to the spike in medication errors.
July isn’t the only time that patients need to be cautious about when scheduling a visit to the hospital. Patients should also take into account days and times when staffing will be light and fewer experienced personnel will be available. In addition to avoiding elective surgeries in July, patients should try to avoid other days that have been shown to have a higher risk for medical errors, including:
- Major holidays, like the Fourth of July, Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Years
- Three day weekend holidays, like Labor Day and Memorial Day
- Spring break
- Summer vacation
Weekends are also bad times to be admitted the hospital. While staff physicians rotate being on call and may only be a phone call away, the residents and other staff calling the shots at the hospital on weekends will be the ones who have the first contact with the patient – and that may be the most critical contact. A study published in the CHEST Journal found that patients admitted to the Intensive Care Unit on the weekends were 8 percent more likely to die than patients admitted during the week.
There are, however, times that a hospital visit is necessary. If a patient is seriously ill, having a heart attack, a stroke, etc… they should get help and get to a hospital immediately! If emergency care is necessary during a higher risk time here are a few things patients can do to help protect themselves from becoming the victim of a medical error:
- Speak up. It is important for patients to be proactive about their health care, which includes asking questions when they don’t understand something or want to know more about their other options. No question is too dumb and second opinions are always available.
- Be smart about medications. Patients should keep a list of their current medications with them, including any over-the-counter or herbal medications as well as vitamins. The list should be given to every doctor who prescribes a new medication to help prevent bad drug interactions. Patients also should ask their doctors to explain what each medication is for, what side effects to watch out for and what to do if they miss a dose.
- Bring a friend. Patients should ask a friend or family member to go to the hospital with them. If one is not available, then patients can ask the hospital to appoint a patient advocate. Patient advocates can help monitor their care and ask questions the patients may not have thought of. They also can listen to the doctor’s instructions on the proper way to care for an incision or take medication in case the patient later forgets.
- Demand cleanliness. Not only is it ok for patients to ask everyone who has personal contact with them in the hospital to wash their hands and use new gloves, but it is a necessity in order to help prevent the spread of hospital-born infections, including potentially deadly staph infections.