What are the worst days to go to the hospital? Several factors, from the time of year to the day of the week, can affect how well a patient does in the hospital. A few weeks ago, we covered the Weekend Effect. In this installment, we address nights and seasons.
Researchers at the famed Mayo Clinic have concluded that hospital patients are more likely to die of a heart attack during off-hours—nights and weekends. Based on their analysis of 50 studies involving nearly 1.9 million, researchers found that patients treated at a hospital for a heart attack during off-hours had a 5% greater risk of dying, either at the hospital or after discharge.
This research confirms other studies. In 2013, for example, a study involving one million hospital admissions for heart failure showed that patients admitted at night, on Friday, or in January spent more time in the hospital and had higher risk of dying from the condition. Other studies have found that patients treated at hospitals in July have higher rates of death and complications. The data from 39 studies found that death rates increased between 8% and 24% in July. Like the Weekend Effect, this phenomenon has been dubbed “the July Effect.”
Our experience is consistent with the research. Earlier this year, for example, we filed a lawsuit on behalf of the parents of an otherwise healthy 26-year-year woman who went to a hospital with a stroke on a Friday night the weekend before the Fourth of July. After two radiologists missed the obvious signs of a stroke in her CT scan, and after the ER doctor and neurologist failed to recognize her serious neurological deficits as signs of a stroke, she died. You can read about that case here:
Researchers say that the July Effect confirms what experienced doctors have always suspected: hospital medical staffs experience a sudden drop in overall experience in July, because the most experienced residents graduate and leave, and at the same time newly minted M.D.s who have just finished medical school arrive to start caring for their first patients.
As to nights, researchers believe that the cause of the discrepancy in outcomes is the same as on weekends: understaffing of doctors and other providers.
What To Do?
While these days might be the worst to go to the hospital from a data perspective, patients should not avoid or delay visiting a hospital if immediate or urgent medical care is needed. The research is not a message to patients to avoid the care they need. Rather, it’s a call to hospital administrators to eliminate significant and arbitrary discrepancies in patient outcomes.
So what should you do? If the treatment or procedure is elective, take into account the day, time, and season, when scheduling your hospital stay. Once at the hospital, patients and their families should ask questions, take notes, speak to experienced physicians, and escalate issues to hospital administration when in doubt. As is always the case, patients should seek and be guided by the sound medical advice of qualified professionals.
The Bell Law Firm represents clients who have suffered death or catastrophic injury in medical malpractice and other personal injury cases.