According to a recent report by ABC News, researchers at the University of California at San Diego have found that the rate of medication errors increase in July at teaching hospitals throughout the country. This spike coincides with the arrival of new medical residents who are just beginning their clinical training. The “July Effect” has always been talked about, but the new study links a 10 % increase in medication errors with these changes in personnel.
An experienced physician cited in the article was not surprised by the study’s findings. He attributes these often-fatal medical malpractice mistakes to the fact that residents are inexperienced in caring for patients and are in the process of trying to learn a new system and new set of procedures. Many medical residents are adjusting to longer shifts and face sleep-deprivation. A Boston Globe article from October 2009 linked less sleep to more complications and noted that the rate of complications when a doctor had less than six hours of sleep was 2.8% higher than when a doctor had more than 6 hours of sleep before a procedure. A Mayo Clinic study in the September 23, 2009 Journal of the American Medical Association mirrored these results, noting that residents who were sleep-deprived were more likely to perform a medical error.
In order to avoid the “July Effect” hospitals and residency program directors must raise awareness surrounding the issues of medical and medication errors and work with residents to prevent them from happening. Program directors should stress the importance of having new residents ask senior residents or attendings for help if there is an issue they are unsure of. Programs should also work with new residents to help them manage their sleep and new workload. The ABC article also notes the implementation of new software that checks for prescription errors may help to quell the July Effect in teaching hospitals.
To read more about the new study on medication errors follow the link.