June: The best time of year to… go to hospital

Hospitals can kill you. So, enter them at safer times, if you can.   

Worst months for going to the hospital
There’s never a good time to fall ill. But some months are worse than others. In northern latitudes, the winter is the most common – and worst – time of the year for a hospital visit. In the summer, on the other hand, there is some evidence that months that see an influx of new medical graduates – typically July and August – can be riskier.

In England
The number of elective hospital admissions per day – that includes scheduled appointments and operations, but not visits to the emergency room – peaks in November and February to March. A&E admissions, too, peak in February and March. And internationally, hospital admissions for many diseases also peak in winter along with the incidence of those diseases. They include respiratory diseases like pneumonia and, among older age groups, asthma and heart attacks. That means that hospitals are typically at very high occupancy levels throughout the winter and there are fewer beds available – as well as a higher chance of longer wait times at A&E.

In Australia
If you can, though, you may want to avoid August or July in the US – or January in Australia. This is when there’s a mass influx of new medical graduates to hospital wards and when many junior doctors change hospitals or roles. Critics argue that the combination of newbie inexperience and mass turnover, where fewer doctors are fully familiar with their role, can lead to an increase in medical errors.

In the USA
From 1993 to 2001, the National Bureau of Economic Research found a 4% rise in mortality across 700 major teaching hospitals in July and August, while a Californian study found A&E patients were more likely to suffer from preventable complications when admitted in July and August compared to those admitted in May and June. After adjusting for other factors, there was a 90% increase in the risk of experiencing preventable or potentially preventable complications (though even then, it was still rare – just over 1%). Another US study found patients admitted to surgery in teaching hospitals in July and August were 41% more likely to die over the next 30 days than those admitted in April to June.

Still, the US study above found December was just as dangerous as July. So it might be a disruption to the hospital schedule – caused, in this case, by doctors going on holiday – that causes the ‘July Effect’, not simply inexperience.

Regardless, if you had to pick any single month that’s best for a hospital visit, you’d probably be best off aiming for June.

 

 

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