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The July Effect Is Alive And Well- But You’re Not

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Dr. Dave Hnida (credit: Dr. Dave Hnida)

Dr. Dave Hnida (credit: Dr. Dave Hnida)

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Written by Dr. Dave Hnida CBS4 Medical EditorFor years the conventional wisdom has been to avoid the hospital during the month of July.

The reason is simple: out with the old and experienced, and in with the rookies.

That’s right, July is the month of change in hospitals across America. Residents graduate to go practice medicine on their own, and young pups straight from med school start practicing on… you.

 But do you really need to be concerned, or is the so-called “July Effect” of increased risk nothing more than an old wives’ tale?

A new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine has a bad diagnosis: the phenomenon is for real, and get admitted in July means you could get stuck with an intern who doesn’t know which end of the scalpel to hold.

Death rates go up 8% compared to the next highest month; surgeries take longer (which also means more anesthesia) ; patients stay in the hospital longer; and there are more medical errors.

(I wish I could say I remember the July of my internship, but I don’t. It was a dizzying blur, and I’m sure that it was only by the grace and wisdom of good nurses that my patients survived.)

Now obviously, you can’t say “I’m not going to the hospital!” if something is truly wrong. But let’s say you need an elective surgery, like a new knee– then maybe August or September might look a little more enticing as you flip through the calendar.

Remember too, if you need to be in: there is always an experienced attending physician in charge of this zoo of the lost — so never, ever be afraid to ask, then speak to, the main physician who is overseeing your care.

As for us, we need to make a few changes. Like a buddy system — pairing off the newbie with an experienced doc. Bringing in extra attending physicians to oversee care. And maybe limit the 36 hour shifts that are ingrained in medicine. (Nothing worse than an inexperienced doctor than a tired, inexperienced doctor.)

August can’t come too soon for the crazed and confused. If you do get stuck going in, don’t hesitate to tell the young doctors the reason they can’t hear anything when they listen to your heart is that they have to put the little thingers at the ends of the stethoscope in their ears.

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