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Study Finds More Patients Die During July

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Luckily, July will be over soon–but not just because of the unbearable heat wave we’ve experienced over the past week. There are other reasons to be concerned during the month of July: according to a recent study, the number of patient deaths in teaching hospitals increases during this month and many patients have longer hospital days during July compared to other months.

Thus far, most of the studies done on the "July effect" have been inconsistent and lacking in sufficient strength to substantiate claims that patient deaths don’t increase in the summer time when new medical trainees start working at teaching hospitals. However, according to a recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the so-called "July effect" is real. The current study looked at all of the data from the previous studies, and after analyzing the strongest and best-designed studies, found that there was an 8% increase in patient deaths during July. In addition, the same studies found that patients stayed longer in the hospital during July and underwent more drawn out procedures. Finally, hospital bills were also higher during July, despite the poorer quality of care.

According to John Q. Young, the study’s lead author, 20 to 30% of more experienced doctors-in-training leave during the summer months and a newer class of trainees take their place at teaching hospitals. The results of this study suggest that hospitals need to implement systems to protect vulnerable patients, who might not have the choice of whether or not to visit the hospital in July. For example, hospitals could assess new residents’ skills and knowledge and match those to their level of responsibility. Other recommendations include staggered start schedules for new residents, more intensive clinical training during the fourth year of medical school, and enhanced supervision at training hospitals.