Are hospitalization outcomes really worse over the holidays?

If you need to need non-emergency surgery or some other kind of medical procedure, you may be considering having it done over the holidays when you’re going to have some time off. However, you may have read – or been warned by friends and family – that the holidays are the most dangerous time of year to be in the hospital. 

The reasoning is that the more senior, experienced doctors have escaped to their mountain vacation homes for some skiing or to the islands for a break from the cold weather and that the hospitals are understaffed with less experienced, overworked medical personnel. Is it a myth that your outcome is likely to be worse over the holidays, or is there some validity to it?

Researchers compared holiday and non-holiday rehospitalizations and deaths

Several years ago, Canadian researchers published a study that looked at about 670,000 patients who were treated between 2002 and 2016 in acute-care hospitals in Ontario. They looked at how those patients discharged in the Christmas/New Year’s holiday period fared compared to those who left the facilities either before or after the holidays.

The researchers found that the differences between the two groups in both rehospitalization and death over the month after they were released varied by less than a couple of percentage points. Those released during the holidays were considerably less likely to have a follow-up appointment with their physician.

Even a slightly greater risk of a poor outcome should be cause for some extra thought before scheduling an elective procedure or even a non-emergency one over the holidays. Many of the people who end up in the hospital or an urgent care facility over the holidays, however, have no choice in the matter. This time of year brings an increase in vehicle crashes, household injuries and medical issues caused by stress, overeating and excessive drinking.

Patients have every right to expect the same standard of care whenever they seek it. Understaffing is not a defense for medical negligence and errors. If you believe the harm suffered by you or a loved one was caused by malpractice, it’s wise to seek legal guidance as soon as possible.

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