The July Effect

A couple of weeks ago, we noticed an MSNBC.com article, “Hospitals really can be deadlier in July, study shows.”

One study shows that medication errors skyrocket in July, the month after med school graduations, and thus the first month that residents are practicing in hospitals. It doesn’t have to be this way.

We asked Dr. Steve Muething, our patient safety officer, for his reaction to the aforementioned article and one of the things he pointed out is that High Reliability Organizations (think military aircraft carriers, nuclear power plants) function 24/7 and also deal with a constant introduction of new staff. They develop systems that limit the chances that human error will lead to harm, even with less experienced staff or during “off” hours. Many of the safety measures that have been implemented at Cincinnati Children’s are modeled after lessons we’ve taken from HROs.

Any time we see the words “hospital” and “deadly” in the same sentence, we are reminded that hospitals have real risks for patients and families. Nothing in medicine is completely without risk. But for patients to go so far as to avoid hospitals during the month of July or on the weekends is an indication that patient safety is a real concern of theirs and must be a focus of ours.

Dr. Steve will tell you – you’ve read here many times – we believe safety is an absolute pre-condition to being an excellent children’s hospital. We have set a five year strategic plan to eliminate the type of harm that is described in the article and will be learning from HROs and national experts to accomplish this goal.

The article’s subhead reads, “… what’s a worried patient to do?”

A worried patient should seek the medical care they need, when they need it, and be an unapologetic advocate for themselves and/or their loved ones.

It’s OK to ask. Ask about everything. Did you wash your hands? What is that medication? Who are you and why are you in my child’s room? I thought Dr. XYZ was going to do this test, why are you here instead? Why is this taking so long? May I talk to the attending please?

All of these are reasonable questions and ones that can help ensure that the care a patient needs is delivered as safely as possible… even in July.

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Kate Setter

About the Author: Kate Setter

Kate manages social media at Cincinnati Children's, a role that she loves because it gives her opportunities to help families find stories and pediatric health information that they want and need. Kate is the mother of a four year-old and a toddler, you will probably hear about them and their antics from time to time as well.

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