Research has shown time and again that being admitted to a hospital intensive care unit during weekends and evenings translates to an 8 to 13 percent increased chance of mortality compared to a weekday admission.
Last year, we told why you should avoid going to the hospital in July if at all possible. Well, now you can add nights and weekends to the list. Okay, so maybe you can’t control exactly when you might need to be hospitalized, but studies show your odds of recovering aren’t nearly as good as when you are treated in off hours.
Time and time again, the data has found that an emergency admission during “off hours” is bad for your health. The statistics for weekend emergencies are downright scary. In the intensive care unit, being admitted on a weekend translates to an 8 to 13 percent increased chance of mortality compared to a weekday admission. Those with gastrointestinal bleeding, which can be brought about by ulcers, are typically examined by endoscopy. But that’s only used one-third of the time on weekends, making patients 22 percent more likely to die of complications than those coming in on a weekday. People admitted for a stroke on the weekend experience a 5 to 12 percent higher risk of death. And the list of night and weekend issues goes on and on, including worse outcomes for emergency visits due to heart attack, kidney damage, leukemia, and even childbirth. A British study found death rates for newborns delivered on the weekend can be 37 percent higher than for those babies born during regular business hours.1
The problem stems from the fact that hospitals keep fewer staff members on duty during off hours, and…let’s face it…the ones who get stuck with the graveyard shift, or spending their whole Sunday at work, are not usually higher level personnel with the most experience. When the staff is at full capacity during the week, any emergency presenting itself can be taken care of by a team of doctors who will call in the necessary specialists — who are already in the building — and be overseen by heads of departments, if necessary. On the weekends or at three o’clock in the morning, the only people on hand are the few physicians on that shift — including a high percentage of residents and interns. If a specialist is needed, they may have to drive a distance to even reach the facility, delaying essential care. Often, they don’t even bother to do that. Many times the consultation is made by phone.
The outcomes are somewhat different depending on the type of hospital to which you are admitted. Not surprisingly, your odds of recovery and survival are much better when you go to a facility that has a well developed trauma center or specializes comprehensively in the injury you are facing, such as a burn unit or stroke center. A recent study that took place at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia found that in hospitals around New Jersey, patients admitted for stroke had a 17.2 percent chance of dying within 90 days of the event if they were seen on a weekend, as opposed to a 16.5 percent chance if they were seen on a weekday. However, that difference disappeared when the patients were initially admitted to hospitals with comprehensive stroke centers.2
So, short of making sure you live close to a world-class medical center in case the worst happens on a night or a weekend, what can you do to keep yourself safe? Well, you can start by doing those things that keep your body healthy without the need for emergency health care, and ideally that minimize the need for any emergency health care. Start living the Baseline of Health Program; take care of yourself the right way and reduce your risk of ever facing the need for an emergency room visit on weekends and evenings…and in July.
1 Kussin. “The Weekend Effect.” Medicaladvocate.com. 12 September 2011. Medicaladvocate.com. 22 September 2011. <http://medicaladvocate.com/?p=969>.
2 Dumont, Aaron S. and Jabbour, Pascal M. “Comprehensive Stroke Centers: Eliminating an Apparent Disparity in Stroke Care on Weekends Versus Weekdays?” Stroke. September 2011. American Heart Association, Inc. 22 September 2011. <http://stroke.ahajournals.org/content/42/9/2380.full>.