'July Effect:' Does the medical legend have a pulse? - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

'July Effect:' Does the medical legend have a pulse?

A new batch of med school graduates enter hospitals to begin residency around July 1 - also a time considered the most dangerous time to get sick. (Source: WAFF) A new batch of med school graduates enter hospitals to begin residency around July 1 - also a time considered the most dangerous time to get sick. (Source: WAFF)

We don't choose when we get sick, but according to a study, the month we become ill could have an impact on how quickly we get better.

According to some, July 1 and the remainder of the month are the most dangerous times to get sick.

That’s because July 1 is the day a new batch of inexperienced medical school graduates enter hospitals for their residences.

A theory known as "the July effect" connects a drop in care to patients - and even suggests patients dying in July are due in part to that inexperience.

Don't jump to reschedule your doctor's appointment - keep in mind, everyone has their first day on the job. For doctors, that comes around July 1, right after graduation, when around 100,000 doctors in training in the U.S. take on new responsibilities.

Medical students become interns, interns with limited experience become residents, and residents become attendants.

It's the perfect storm that plays out every year.

Dr. Ashley Weil has had to contend with a trust factor from patients for the past three years as a resident in family medicine.

"I'll tell them, 'I'm Dr. Weil, nice to meet you.' They ask me if I'm old enough to be a doctor, but usually once we start talking and they trust me, it's not a problem," said Weil.

She is about to go off on her own to take on the family medicine practice of a Huntsville doctor who’s retiring.

"Everyone in medical school hears about the urban legend - you don't want to be in the hospital July 1 - but I think maybe in the past that it happened, a resident would see somebody and they are not experienced, and maybe they would make the wrong decision - but that has pretty much has gone away because we are supervised very well,” added Weil.

July is when doctors in training at teaching hospitals rotate out for new assignments. They are replaced by new, inexperienced physicians.

A study published by the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests this causes quality of care to drop in July. The authors found this leads to longer surgical times, longer hospital stays and even deaths.

A Journal of General Internal Medicine study examined medical errors from 1979 to 2006 at US hospitals and found medication errors did increase in the month of July at teaching hospitals.

However, both studies could not reach any firm conclusions about the level of increased risk during July. In fact, more recent studies have found the opposite to be true.

Huntsville Hospital happens to be a teaching hospital in internal and family medicine. On any given day, you can catch Dr. Robert Centor making his rounds to patients with his group of residents.

He’s a professor of Internal Medicine, the Dean at Huntsville's Medical Campus of UAB, and has 40 years as a practicing physician to offer that supervision.

"Back then, there's not near the supervision there is now. So the old studies did show a little bit of this July effect but the newer studies really haven't shown it because we don't let the brand new doctor, the intern make decisions they shouldn't make," said Centor.

Look at medicine as a team sport, with Dr. Centor calling the plays for his residents. Nothing is done by a resident without his recommendation.

"The thing that scares you about brand new interns is that they are brand new and so they ask more questions. The thing that reassures you is that they know they're brand new and so they ask more questions,” added Centor.

"July effect" studies ushered in sweeping policy changes at teaching hospitals, slowing down the tempo of responsibility passed on to new doctors and covering them with senior doctors - all to better protect patients.

Because for doctors, like Ashley Weil, that's all that really matters.

If you still have some lingering concerns, here's what you can do as a patient to ease them.

First, introduce yourself to everyone who stops by your hospital room or exam room.

Understand the hierarchy: know who the interns are versus the residents and who the attending physician who's overseeing everything is.

Don't be afraid to speak up, if someone is giving you a new medication, don't hesitate to ask why.

Copyright 2015 WAFF. All rights reserved.

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