Should You Avoid Hospitals in August, When the Rookie Docs Arrive?

By Brett Israel | September 23, 2009 4:59 pm

doctor_web“Killing season,” a term used to describe the time when junior doctors take over at hospitals, was thought to be just an unsettling joke. However, British researchers found hospital mortality rates rise by 6 per cent on the first Wednesday in August. Perhaps not coincidentally, that is also the day newly qualified doctors, fresh from medical school, are let loose on the wards of [England’s National Health Service] hospitals [Daily Mail]. There could be lots of explanations for the increase, so the authors say their data doesn’t mean people should shy away from hospitals during this week, but they do say the increase is statistically significant. The report was published recently in the journal PLoS ONE.

To arrive at their result, an Imperial College team looked at 300,000 emergency patients admitted to English hospitals between 2000 to 2008. They compared death rates between the first week of August, when new doctors arrive, and the previous week in July [BBC News]. The study’s authors note that past studies looking at mortality rates before and after junior doctors take over did not find any difference. The results could be due to the different types of patients being admitted, but if it turns out to that there is some merit to the “killing season” myth, it could have large implications for how young doctors are turned loose.

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Image: flickr / [lauren nelson]

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • http://clubneko.net/ nick

    This study would probably be more actually statistically significant if they looked at more than two weeks out of the year.

  • G Hats

    Agreed,

    They should probably do something like compare the first week of August with the last week of July, a week in mid December, and a week in the spring like April or something. then they can see if there is a trend of slowly reduced death rates as the new doctors get better.

    If their theory is right, death rates will slowly decline to the lowest rate in July from the highest in August.

  • rainy

    You need to look only at that one time because there are seasonal differences in rates of different diseases and injuries. What would be the best is if in a couple hospitals you could delay the new docs coming on the job for a week and see if what the pattern would be.

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