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"July effect" may exist for high-risk patients, study says

A new study of patients at risk for heart attacks shows that the so-called "July effect," once thought to be nothing more than urban legend, may actually exist in hospitals in South Carolina and nationwide. The phenomenon dictates that the month of July, typically the month when new medical school graduates take positions on teaching-hospital floors, can be deadlier than any other month of the year.

The sickest heart attack patients were 30 percent more likely to die in teaching-focused hospitals in July than in May, according to the study, but the same gap did not exist at non-teaching-intensive hospitals, according to a report from Harvard Medical School, which headed the study.

Patients who are already at high risk of death because of their age and physical condition are likely most to be affected by physician inexperience in July when the newest doctors take the floor, the study found. This did not hold true, however, for low-risk patients.

Researchers used data collected from 2002 to 2008 to compile these results. They found that in hospitals with an emphasis on teaching new physicians, close to 23 percent of high-risk patients died in July, compared to 19 percent in May. If this July "effect" phenomenon really exists, it's only limited to the sickest patients, say medical industry insiders, so it may not be a significant cause for concern.

This study could have far-reaching implications for patients who are already at high risk for such complications and for hospitals alike. Such facilities may elect to take preventative measures in light of the study, such as staggering their promotions or new hires or enforcing a more vigilant approach to high-risk patients. If these facilities fail to do this, they may open themselves up to medical malpractice lawsuits if a causative link can be established between a patient's adverse event and inexperienced or negligent new staff.

Source: New York Daily News, "'July effect' true for only sickest heart attack patients: study", November 08, 2013

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