When the Doctor’s Away, the Patient Is More Likely to Survive
But the precise cause of this enhanced weekend mortality has been hard to determine; is it the reduced staff, a more leisurely approach to care, or some other factor? To try to get at the cause, some researchers obtained records of heart patients who had a critical event during a time when hospitals were at full staff, but heart specialists were likely to be out of town. Unexpectedly, they found that the patients did significantly better when the relevant specialists were unavailable.
The study relied on medicare records to track patients that were admitted to a hospital with a serious heart condition: acute myocardial infarction, heart failure, or cardiac arrest. The key measure was simply whether the patient was still alive 30 days later.
That may sound simple, but the rest of the analysis was remarkably sophisticated. To figure out when heart specialists were most likely to be present at hospitals, they selected two large cardiology meetings: the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, both of which attract over 10,000 participants. Patients admitted during the meetings were compared with groups admitted three weeks before and after. Reasoning that researchers are more likely to attend these meetings, they analyzed teaching hospitals separately from regular ones.