If you are reading these words from a hospital, chances are you either are about to or already have died. Very sorry that's how things shook out for you, but that's what you get for going to the hospital in July.
"The July Effect" is one of those great hospital secrets like, "You can always ask for a butterfly needle" or, "Dr. Campbell and Dr. Fowler are having an affair" that doctors won't tell you outright but that you might pick up on anyway by eavesdropping on hospital workers' conversations.
The rule holds that medical errors spike in summer because that's when residents, fresh out of medical school, start work at teaching hospitals. Being a doctor is one big game of Operation to these punks. You go in with a headache and all of a sudden they're trying to remove your Wish Bone with a pair of tweezers, being real, real careful not to touch the sides. The stethoscopes around their necks are made of plastic. Their doctor's coats are just one of their dad's white dress shirts.
Actual data on the July Effect varies, however. The New York Times reports that one of "the largest and best designed" studies found that patient mortality rates increase by 8% in July, a month that also sees a jump in hospital charges and more drawn-out stays. Other studies, though, have found no real difference between quality of hospital care in July and the rest of the year.
Last week, the Times website featured an opinion piece from a nurse who attests to the existence of the July Effect. Even if the statistics don't point to July as a particularly fatal month, she said, the July Effect "is undeniably real in terms of adequacy and quality of care delivery." Then she told an anecdote that boiled down to this: Once, a patient was in pain, dying from cancer, and a new resident declined to up his medication. This happened in July. Reminder: It is now July.
Comments on the piece generally fell into three camps: angry doctors writing in to ask why everyone hates doctors, people who had been to the hospital in July swearing that the July effect is real, and people stopping by to let everyone know how much they love nurses.
So, if you do have to take a trip to the hospital in July, go in with the expectation that you'll never walk out again. (Or maybe kiss a stranger on your way in? Dance like no one's watching, certainly.) Then, if, through some egregious medical error you don't die, won't that be a pleasant surprise?
Have you ever gone to or died in a hospital in July? What about another month? Any good hospital tips you'd like to share, July-related or otherwise? Please do so.