ALERT: July is the most dangerous time of year to be in the hospital

There’s never a good time to be sick or go to the hospital. But early July is actually the worst time of all.

For one, you’ll miss the opening of the full summer season in northern parts of the U.S. and Canada and parts of Europe. But even more, in July, you’re far more likely to encounter an inexperienced doctor and to experience a dangerous, even deadly medical complication.

As crazy as it sounds, all of the doctors-in-training around the entire country start on duty as hospital staff physicians on the very same day—July 1st.

At the same time, all of the more experienced hospital staff physicians move up or move out. And the most senior medical and nursing staff, with years of experience supervising and working with doctors-in-training, typically start taking vacations during this prime time!

On top of that, hospital emergency room (ER) visits also spike around the Fourth of July—thanks to all of the drinking, outdoor fires, fireworks, and even use of firearms. In fact, in Southeast Florida, where I worked as a State Medical Examiner for Miami-Dade County, part of the Independence Day celebrations included shooting guns into the night sky.

So, in the first full week of July alone, all the new physicians-in-training are also forced to deal with this influx of injuries and illness in the ER.

No wonder there’s nearly a 50 percent higher fatality rate on the Fourth of July weekend compared to ER admissions during non-holidays!

Of course, the whole month of July suffers from some pretty horrendous statistics…

Higher complication and death rates in July

In fact, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, did a study that found higher rates of complications and deaths with surgical procedures performed in the hospital during July compared to other times of the year.

Unfortunately, my own family experienced the tragic results of this effect when my mother had to go to the hospital the first part of July in 2016. She had not spent one day in the hospital her whole life, except to have children. She was perfectly fine on the July 4th holiday itself, but began feeling poorly the next day. And once she was finally admitted to the hospital, she never got out. It was a terrible shock, and July 4th will never be the same for us.

It’s really a tragedy, because the hospital system could counteract this July effect by simply staggering new doctor start dates and senior doctor and medical staff vacations.

Now, before I go, let me touch on a few other potential dangers you can encounter at the hospital at any time of year…

Complication rates more than quadruple later in the day

As I’ve warned before, if you must undergo a medical procedure, make sure you schedule it early in the day. That’s because complication rates of even “routine” procedures like colonoscopies go up with each passing hour of the day. Plus,  doctors become 5 percent less likely to detect an important finding that’s actually present with each hour that passes.

Problems with anesthesia also occur more often when procedures are performed later in the day. In fact, at 9 a.m., just 1.0 percent of surgical patients experience problems. But that figure more than quadruples to 4.2 percent by 4 p.m.

Then there’s the abuse of performing “emergency” cesarean sections (or C-sections) on pregnant women late on Friday afternoons. It turns out, women are much more likely to undergo an unplanned, “emergency” C-section between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. on a Friday compared to any other time of the week. That way, doctors won’t need to get called in to the hospital on weekends—their real “emergency.”

All in all, I suggest you strive to stay healthy and away from hospitals during July. Especially in the afternoon and evenings.