If you’ve ever visited a friend or family in the hospital, and felt as though patients weren’t quite as competently looked after on nights and weekends as they are on weekdays, you’re not just imagining things.
New research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology shows that, at least for people in the hospital, your chances of dying significantly increase on Saturday or Sunday, a phenomenon doctors call the “weekend effect.”
Theoretically, this really shouldn’t be the case. Hospitals run 24 hours because you can’t exactly schedule a hernia, and the whole reason doctors have shifts is to ensure that people get the best possible care, no matter the day or hour.
Sadly, however, this doesn’t seem to be the case. A 2008 study found that the likelihood of dying from a heart attack in the hospital is higher on nights and weekends, even when adjusted for variables. Ten years later, it seems that while things have gotten a little better, it’s an issue that persists.
“Despite an overall improvement in survival, lower survival in IHCA [in-house cardiac arrest] during off-hours compared with on-hours persists,” the study reads.
“We’re able to point out that the problem exists without really having great insight as to why,” Dr. Seth Goldstein, a pediatric surgical fellow at Johns Hopkins Hospital, told CNN, having conducted his own research that found that children admitted to the hospital on weekends for surgeries had a lower survival rates and a greater risk of complications.
He theorized that perhaps it was because people who come in on nights and weekends tend to be in more critical condition, as that is when people are most liable to experience alcohol-related injuries. But he also admitted that hospitals may simply be more understaffed, and doctors more tired, during off-hours.
“The number of patients that we’re responsible for at any one time is higher during the less desirable shifts,” Goldstein said. “It is more difficult in a hospital to get laboratory values, x-rays done, EKGs performed (at night) than it is during the day.”
According to some statistics, between 44,000 and 98,000 hospitalized Americans die each year as a result of preventable medical errors. If we want to bridge this gap, then we need to have a serious overhaul of how our hospitals function.
Or, at the very least, the staff need to find more ways to keep their energy levels up.
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