UCSD study looks at link between medical residents, fatal medication deaths


The annual arrival of new medical residents at teaching hospitals every summer may be related to a corresponding increase in fatal medication deaths, according to a UC San Diego study released Wednesday.

UCSD sociologists looked at counties with teaching hospitals in them, and measured the numbers of deaths caused by medication errors each month. It found that deaths caused by prescriptions of the wrong drugs spike in July in those counties with teaching hospitals.

The general trend was not linked directly to the arrival of student doctors, however.

Researchers examined 244,388 U.S. death certificate issued between 1979 and 2006, focusing on fatal medication errors as the recorded primary cause of death, according to UCSD.

They found that in counties with teaching hospitals, the number of July deaths from medication errors was 10 percent higher than normal, according to the UCSD study. Fatal medication errors spiked in July and in no other month.

No similar link was observed for other causes of death or for deaths outside hospitals.

The study, by UCSD sociology professor David Phillips and student Gwendolyn Barker, was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.