MedicalIf you need elective surgery, the month of July probably isn’t the best time to schedule it. According to a new study from the University of California at San Diego the “July effect” makes next month the worst for fatal medical errors. Once thought to be a myth, researchers recently discovered that the “July effect” really does exist and is probably caused by the influx of new medical residents during that month.

The study looked at 62 million death certificates between 1979 and 2006 and found that medical errors spiked by 10 percent in July. In comparison, non-teaching hospitals did not experience the same increase, supporting the researchers’ conclusion that the problem is due to the larger numbers of medical residents entering hospitals in July. Unfortunately, medical residents often work longer shifts even though a report released in 2008 revealed that the maximum a resident should work in one day is 16 hours. Additionally, shift changes may result in miscommunications between medical staff and doctors so that critical information isn’t passed on to personnel on the next shift. However, there are some things you can do to protect yourself from becoming the victim of a medical error:

  • 1. Get involved in your care—don’t just sit idly by and hope that everything goes okay. Make sure to ask questions and take an active role in making decisions with your doctor.
  • 2. Get to know your caregivers and make sure your doctor is involved—if you can avoid it, don’t undergo surgeries with doctors you have no previous association with and make sure to get to know the other medical staff that will provide your care.
  • 3. Take the initiative to learn about your conditions and treatments—if you’ve just been diagnosed with a new condition, take the time to learn about it either independently or through your healthcare provider. Also, become familiar with the appropriate treatments and the possible side effects resulting from these treatments.
  • 4. Take all the precautions with your prescription medication—that is, disclose all the other drugs you are already taking to your doctor, know the correct dosage for your new medications, ask about your prescriptions and why they are necessary, double check any new medications when you pick them up at the pharmacy and make sure that it’s the right one and the right dosage, get all your prescriptions from the same place so that there is less likelihood for confusion or mix-ups, and learn the side effects of your new medications so you know what you should or shouldn’t expect.
  • 5. Take all the precautions before undergoing surgery—make sure everyone involved in the surgery knows what procedure is going to be done, the correct site, choose a hospital with experience, and learn about your surgeon so that they have the right specialty or the right credentials to perform your surgery.
  • 6. Take all the precautions before your hospital stay—follow up on your test results, that is, just because you haven’t heard back doesn’t mean you’re necessarily okay. Also, make sure hospital employees wash their hands prior to touching or treating you. Finally, have a family member or friend be there with you so that you feel more confident when asking questions or about follow-up treatments.

It’s probably still a good idea to avoid the month of July for elective surgery, but mistakes can also happen year-round. Take these preventative steps to help ensure your safety before, during, and after surgery.