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Why July is the worst month to go to the hospital

By Megg Mueller on September 25th, 2010

The unfortunate, untimely deaths of actors Heath Ledger, Brittany Murphy and pop superstar Michael Jackson all had one thing in common. Aside from their too-soon nature, each celebrity died, in part, due to medication errors while under the care of a doctor. Too many medicines or the wrong combination of prescription drugs can be lethal, and if you think it's just drug addicts and pill-popping celebrities at home, think again. More than 100,000 deaths occur each year in the U.S. due to hospital medical errors, according to a story from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

What's even more unsettling is that July seems to be the worst month for such deaths, with researchers finding a 10 percent spike in deaths from medical errors. The study, published online by the Journal of General Internal Medicine, showed that over a 27-year period in U.S. counties where there were teaching hospitals, medical error deaths were highest in July. The reason is both obvious and surprising: Newly graduated medical residents are reporting to work during the month of July.

The addition of new health care workers can mean more personal attention when you're in the hospital, but it also might mean someone with relatively little experience is prescribing your medications. Protect yourself by having a list of your current medications with you at all times. Tell each doctor or nurse to take a look at what you are taking, and make sure they know your name to help prevent any confusion about your treatment. If possible, have someone with you at all times that is aware of your medical history, in case you need an advocate.

Doctors admit that new physicians need more training about medications, but say that often new doctors are thrown into situations where they have to think quickly and act alone. It's hard to predict when you will need to go to the ER or when you might end up in the hospital. So, even if your health insurance policy provides coverage for your visit to the hospital, make sure you are extra vigilant about the care you receive during the dog days of summer.

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