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Are Hospitals More Dangerous in July?

Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare provider deviates from the accepted standard of care in their field, leading to patient injury or harm. Examples of medical malpractice may include misdiagnosis, surgical errors, medication mistakes, or inadequate follow-up care. In this blog, we will examine the July Effect and whether medical malpractice is more common during a particular time.  

What Is the July Effect?  

The July Effect, also known as the "July Phenomenon,” refers to the perceived increase in medical errors and complications that occur during the summer months, particularly in teaching hospitals. This is the time when newly graduated medical students begin their residencies, and experienced residents move up to higher levels of responsibility. 

Many studies have been conducted to investigate the existence and extent of the July Effect, with mixed results. Some research indicates a significant increase in negative patient outcomes during this period, while others suggest that the impact is minimal or non-existent. 

Is the July Effect Fact or Fiction?  

The validity of the July Effect has been long debated. Many people believe that the July Effect is real as new resident and interns are:  

  • Inexperienced. New residents, fresh out of medical school, may lack practical experience, leading to an increased likelihood of errors. Additionally, experienced residents who advance to higher levels may be unfamiliar with new responsibilities and protocols. 

  • Fatigued. The demanding nature of residency programs, coupled with long working hours, can lead to sleep deprivation and exhaustion, which can negatively affect decision-making and clinical performance. 

  • Unsupervised (at times). Due to the influx of new residents, supervising physicians may be stretched thin, potentially resulting in inadequate oversight and guidance for trainees. 

  • Struggle with communication. As new teams form and individuals adjust to their roles, communication among healthcare professionals may be less efficient, increasing the potential for misunderstandings and errors. 

While these are all genuine issues, the July Effect is mostly fictional. Some studies have reported a statistically significant increase in medical errors and complications during this period, but other research has found minimal or no effect.  

A 2019 research study debunked the July Effect, as researchers showed that there was not an increase in mortality or complications between Q1 and Q4 (i.e. the two quarters with the most difference between the number of inexperienced resident present). Regardless of whether the July Effect is real, medical residents, interns, and other staff can make mistakes that lead to serious damages, such as:  

  • Medical expenses. Costs incurred for past and future medical treatment, rehabilitation, and ongoing care resulting from the malpractice incident. For example, additional surgeries, medications, or therapy sessions. 

  • Lost wages. Compensation for income lost due to time away from work, reduced working hours, or an inability to continue working as a result of malpractice. This can also include the loss of future earning capacity. 

  • Home modifications and assistive devices. Costs associated with making the patient's home accessible and providing equipment such as wheelchairs, prosthetics, or home healthcare services. 

  • Pain and suffering. Compensation for physical pain, emotional distress, and mental anguish experienced by the patient due to the malpractice. This may include chronic pain, anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

  • Loss of consortium. Damages awarded to a spouse or partner for the loss of companionship, emotional support, and intimate relations resulting from the malpractice incident. 

  • Loss of enjoyment of life. Compensation for the diminished ability to enjoy life's pleasures and activities due to the injuries sustained from the malpractice. 

  • Disfigurement and scarring. Damages awarded for permanent physical changes caused by the malpractice, such as scars, amputations, or disfigurement, which may impact the patient's self-esteem and social interactions. 

  • Punitive damages. These damages are awarded in cases where the defendant's conduct was egregious or reckless, to punish the responsible party and deter similar behavior in the future.  

Can You Sue a Medical Resident or Intern for Malpractice?  

In the state of Georgia, it is possible to sue a medical resident or intern for medical malpractice. To establish a medical malpractice claim in Georgia, the plaintiff typically must prove the following elements: 

  • Duty. The healthcare provider owed a duty of care to the patient. 

  • Breach. The healthcare provider breached that duty by failing to meet the applicable standard of care. 

  • Causation. The healthcare provider's breach directly caused the patient's injuries. 

  • Damages: The patient suffered damages (e.g., physical, emotional, or financial) due to the healthcare provider's breach. 

In cases involving medical residents or interns, the key factor in determining liability may be whether the individual was acting within the scope of their training and supervision. Under Georgia law, hospitals and other medical facilities may also be held vicariously liable for the actions of their employees, including medical residents and interns. 

Experienced Medical Malpractice Attorneys 

At The Dickinson Law Firm, our attorneys have deades of combined legal experience. If you or a loved one have suffered injuries due to medical malpractice, we can help you establish liability, calculate your damages, negotiate or litigate the case, and navigate the case legalities.  

Call (770) 924-8155 to discuss your case with our attorneys today.