Holiday Hospitalizations Involve Higher Risk Of Death, Readmission: Study

New research suggests that hospital treatments around the holidays may involve a greater risk of medical mistakes or problems that result in a patient being readmitted soon after discharge. 

In a study published this week in the medical journal The BMJ, researchers compared outcomes following hospital discharge before or after the holidays, to those who were treated during the two weeks around Christmas and New Years, evaluating the individual’s risk of death and need for readmissions.

Canadian researchers analyzed data from 217,000 children and adults hospitalized due to an urgent medical issue in Ontario, Canada, from April 1, 2002, and January 31, 2016. Those patients discharged during the holiday period were compared to 453,000 children and adults discharged during two control periods in late November and January.

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Patients discharged during the holidays had a 13% higher risk of readmission or death within seven days of their discharge. They also had an 18% higher risk of death and readmission 14 days after discharge and were 26% more likely to die or be readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of their discharge.

Patients discharged during the holidays also had fewer follow-up appointments after discharge compared to patients in the control groups. Follow-up appointments can help prevent complications after illness or surgery.

Patients discharged over the holidays had only a 36% chance of completing follow-up appointments seven days after discharge, and a 59% chance 14 days after discharge. Patients not discharged during the holidays had a 48% chance of making their follow-up appointment seven days later, and a 70% chance of making their 14 day follow-up.

Researcher also noted that for every 100,000 patients discharged during the holidays there were 26 excess deaths, 188 excess hospital readmissions, and 483 additional emergency department visits. Similarly, patients discharged during the holidays resulted in nearly 3,000 fewer follow-up appointments.

Something is happening differently for patients discharged during the holidays, the researchers concluded, but were unable to determine exactly what caused the disparity.

A similar study published earlier this year found that patients who are hospitalized over the weekend face greater health risks and risks of complications. This is known in the healthcare industry as the “weekend effect” and may be attributed to fatigued doctors who are working long overnight or weekend shifts, as well as understaffed hospitals.

Authors of the new study warn that, much like weekend patients, patients discharged during the holidays may not be receiving the best transitional care when they leave the hospital. In addition, hospitals are working with reduced staff during the holidays and often focus on faster discharges, so patients can be home with their family during the holidays.

This is also a time when most patients simply don’t want to be in the hospital, the researchers noted. They prefer to be at home where they can be comfortable and don’t have to change eating or drinking habits or change their normal routine.

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