The 'July Effect': Worst Month For Fatal Hospital Errors, Study Finds

"There have been some improvements, but I think some of what this shows is the importance of having safeguards built into the system," said Orentlicher.

An example would be the measure by anesthesiologists to design different tubing for different bottles of gas. Orentlicher said for years a certain number of deaths were caused by assistants mixing up lines to gas tanks before anesthesiologists got to work. But new connecting tubes it made it impossible to plug an oxygen line into the wrong tank.

July Effect May be Difficult to Address

"You should try to make sure humans don't make mistakes, but humans are humans, so knowing that people make mistakes, how are you going to prevent it?" he said.

Orentlicher suggested focusing on using computer software to scan and check for prescription errors, or dosage errors.

"That's the kind of thing you need to do. You are always going to have inexperienced residents and you can give them more sleep and you can give them more supervision," he said.

Dr. Joanne Conroy, chief health care officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges, agreed July is a hectic month. But she also wondered if it was possible to pin the mistakes on new residents.

"Even though we associated July with new residents, actually there are a lot of new caregivers in July," said Conroy. "It's probably a time where there are a lot of health professionals assuming new responsibilities. Everybody moves up."

Conroy also wanted to see data specific to the last five years in teaching hospitals. In that time, she said hospitals have implemented many new policies that increased supervision of residents, tailored responsibilities to the ability of the new doctor and allowed for more sleep.

"The study brings up more questions than it gives answers, but it's certainly not anything we are ignoring and dismissive of at all," said Conroy.

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