The spike coincides with the annual influx of new medical residents at hospitals in several countries, sparking questions about the level of responsibility these residents are asked to shoulder.
Researchers evaluated the linkage between doctor inexperience and medical error by focusing on fluctuations in the number of medication mistakes (involving “accidental overdose of a drug, wrong drug given or taken in error, drug taken inadvertently, and accidents in the use of drugs in medical and surgical procedures”) in July, when new doctors begin medical residencies.
They reviewed 244,388 death certificates issued between 1979 and 2006, tracking “fatal medication errors” as the primary cause of death. The number of deaths in July was then compared with the number of expected medical error fatalities for any given month of a typical year. Researchers also examined whether there were any differences between deaths “in and out of hospitals in July as well as between counties with and without teaching hospitals.”
The results: fatal medication errors spiked in July–and in no other month–in counties with teaching hospitals to the tune of 10 percent above the expected level. No link was found for other causes of death or deaths outside hospitals.
The researchers summarized the implications of these findings as…
“…fresh evidence for 1) re-evaluating responsibilities assigned to new residents; 2) increasing supervision of new residents; 3) increasing education concerned with medication safety. Incorporating these changes might reduce both fatal and non-fatal medication errors and thereby reduce the substantial costs associated with these errors.”
The study was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.