A new study by Johns Hopkins University on patient safety reached some unique findings. Patients injured and hospitalized on the weekend are more likely to die than those injured and hospitalized during the week. As a New York medical malpractice lawyer , I realize that this study offers some clues as to the underlying causes of certain medical mistakes.
The Johns Hopkins study reviewed 38,675 patient medical records. It targeted older patients, between the ages of 65 and 89, who suffered head trauma from 2006 to 2008. Approximately 1.4 million Americans suffer head trauma that results in a hospital visit each year, the researchers say, and more than 50,000 die annually as a result of their injuries. An estimated 235,000 require in-patient care. Head trauma also disproportionately affects older people, with injuries and mortality highest for those over 75.
Strangely, the study discovered that this category of patient is more likely to die on a weekend than the same category of patient on a weekday. This is even though patients on weekends generally have less severe injuries, fewer medical problems, and are in overall better health than comparable head trauma patients on weekdays. Specifically, patients admitted on weekends were 14 percent more likely to die from their injuries, with no difference in the cost of care. This suggests that weekday and weekend patients received similar treatments.
The study was published in the Journal of Surgical Research, and reinforced an already well known “weekend effect” for patients suffering from heart attacks, strokes, and aneurisms.
What Can be Done?
The study suggested that weekend care at hospitals suffers from reduced staff, including the lack of immediate access to specialists. Eric Schneider, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Center for Surgical Trials and Outcomes Research, said, “There isn’t a medical reason for worse results on weekends. It’s more likely a difference in how hospitals operate over the weekend as opposed to during the week, meaning that there may be a real opportunity for hospitals to change how they operate and save lives.”
What the study could not determine was whether there was a delay in care or whether the type of facility (ie a teaching hospital, a community hospital) made any difference. Other research, however, has found a diminished weekend effect in patients taken to Level 1 trauma centers, such as Johns Hopkins, where highly specialized staff is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
One obvious solution is to staff every hospital on weekends at the same optimal level as weekdays. However, that may be impractical when costs are taken into account. A more practical approach might be for emergency medical personnel to transport older patients with head injuries directly to the nearest trauma center, and bypass closer facilities that cannot provide that level of care.
Whatever the case, it seems illogical for medical patients to have different long-term prospects based solely on what day of the week they are injured.
See Our Related Blog Posts:
(Photo courtesy of DafneCholet)