It’s the championship football game and your favorite team is driving down the field to score a touchdown. Your star quarterback and seasoned offensive linemen are working together like a well-oiled machine. Everyone is in perfect sync and the entire team is seemingly moving as one. Your team can’t be stopped.
But wait! What’s this? A time out is called and in come a slew of substitutions. Your veteran quarterback and linemen are replaced by a rookie and four other practice squad players who are being asked to play positions they have never played before. For the rest of the game, lack of experience, unfamiliarity with each other, and poor communication between the players lead to sacks, turnovers, and a loss for your team. Would a change in personnel like this during the middle of an important game ever be tolerated by the team’s fans? No way! But this is exactly the type of substitution that happens at Ohio's teaching hospitals every summer and it puts patients at risk.
Every July at teaching hospitals like The Cleveland Clinic, Ohio State University Hospital, and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, there is a change of health care providers that threatens the safety of the patients at these facilities. This is the time of year when the most experienced residents graduate and leave the hospital. These graduating residents have spent the past three to six years training under the guidance of more experienced doctors and the patients at these teaching hospitals served as their case studies. However, these experienced residents are replaced by brand new doctors who just graduated from medical school. To compound the problem, the remaining residents who have been at the hospital for a year or two are now being asked to assume new and unfamiliar roles. Consequently, this can be a very dangerous time for patients at these teaching hospitals.
This is such a dangerous time of year for patients that studies have been conducted that document that the rate of patient deaths and complications from medical procedures increases between 8% and 34% during the month of July. Dr. John Young of the University of California, San Francisco, reported these findings in a study he published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Every year this “July effect” as the hospitals sometimes refer to it affects about 100,000 doctors in teaching hospitals around the country. According to Dr. Young, no other industry undergoes such a dramatic change in personnel on such a regular basis.
So what can you do to protect yourself and your family members? Here are three tips from an experienced Ohio medical malpractice attorney:
- Ask your doctor if he or she will be performing your surgery at a teaching hospital where doctors in training may be involved in your care. Some hospitals are not teaching hospitals or your procedure might be performed at a surgery center that does not use residents. If that is the case, then you likely won’t be affected by this problem.
- If your surgery is elective and it is safe for you to put it off, request that your surgery be scheduled during the first six months of the year, when the doctors being trained at a teaching hospital will be more experienced and familiar with the hospital’s policies, procedures, and nursing staff and there will be less of a chance for a mistake to be made.
- If you have to have your surgery during the summer months because it can’t wait, let it be known that you want the most experienced doctor to perform your surgery and to be very involved in your care. Ohio’s teaching hospitals are important to train the doctors of the future, but your health and well-being should not suffer because you are being use as the guinea pig for a brand new doctor.