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What is the 'July Effect' and how does it affect patient care?

Going to the hospital can be a frightening experience for anyone. People can be stressed out, confused and in pain in this situation and the last thing they should have to worry about is being treated by inexperienced nurses or doctors. Unfortunately, that can be all but unavoidable, especially at teaching hospitals in July.

New medical students typically start working in these hospitals during the month of July, which means that if you went to a teaching hospital last month, you could have been treated by a doctor with very little experience. This phenomenon is known as the July Effect.

This topic was discussed in the 2015 July issue of Trial magazine Volume 51, No. 7 in an article titled "Medical Errors and the July Effect." In the article, it is noted that hospital mortality rates increase in months like July when there is considerable staff changeovers. With less experienced doctors starting during July, patients may fall victim to medical errors including infections, misdiagnosis, delayed care and medication mistakes.

However, it is important to note that these types of errors can be made by any doctor, no matter how long he or she has been practicing. Similarly, just because a doctor is new does not mean that he or she will make a mistake, especially if the hospital supports new doctors by limiting workload and providing adequate supervision and assistance until a person gets more comfortable.

Going to the hospital can be an upsetting experience for anyone and given the choice, people would probably choose to stay out of the hospital altogether. But when someone is sick or injured, a trip to the hospital can be unavoidable.

What can be avoided, however, is medical negligence. With proper care, training and supervision, new doctors and nurses can and should be able to prevent or address potential errors before they can cause serious damage. If this cannot be done, patients and/or their families may have grounds to pursue a medical malpractice or wrongful death claim. For more information on this option, it can be crucial to discuss specific cases with an attorney.

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