Fatal Medication Errors Peak in July

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo & Plotkin LLP

ABC reports an old saying among some doctors: do not let your friends and family schedule surgery in July. New residents, fresh out of medical school, report to their teaching hospitals in July after graduation. Researchers from the University of California recently confirmed anecdotal evidence of the “July Effect” — a rise in medical errors.

The study examined more than 62 million death certificates from across the United States, dated from 1979 to 2006. Of those, 244,388 were caused by medication errors in a hospital. The statistical likelihood of a fatal medication error was virtually equal for all months except for the month of July at teaching hospitals. In counties with a high number of teaching hospitals, the study found that fatal medication errors spiked by 10 percent in July, while it stayed the same in areas without teaching hospitals. The study findings are reported in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Dr. Joanne Conroy, chief health care officer for the Association of Medical Colleges, agreed that July is a hectic month but adds that there are a lot of new caregivers in July. She states that July is “probably a time where there are a lot of health professionals assuming new responsibilities. Everybody moves up.”

Dr. David Orentlicher, a medical doctor and professor of law at Indiana University, told ABC that there are many aspects of starting a new residency that might put people at risk for medical errors, including residents’ inexperience, sleep deprivation and need to learn a new hospital system. He suggests the use of computer software to assist in checking for prescription or dosing errors.

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