BALTIMORE—A new Johns Hopkins study has found that patients injured and hospitalized on the weekend are more likely to die than patients admitted on a weekday.
The study provides further evidence of the so-called "weekend effect," a phenomenon that has been examined in several studies involving heart attack, stroke and aneurism patients.
The study examined the medical records of 38,675 patients between the ages of 65 and 89 who were admitted to U.S. hospitals for head trauma injuries. Ultimately, weekend head injuries were more likely to be fatal even if they were "less severe or the patient had fewer comorbidities than someone similarly hospitalized on a weekday."
Each year, about 1.4 million Americans are hospitalized for head trauma, according to the study's researchers. Of these, more than 50,000 die annually as a result of their injuries. The researchers found that weekend patients were 14 percent more likely to die from their injuries than weekday patients, even after accounting for other factors such as age or compounding illnesses.
“There isn’t a medical reason for worse results on weekends,” said study leader Eric B. Schneider, PhD, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Center for Surgical Trials and Outcomes Research in a press release. “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.”
In the release, Schneider notes that hospitals often have fewer veteran doctors and nurses working on weekends, and it may be harder to summon specialists quickly. But hospitals may not be able to afford maintaining the same staffing levels on Saturdays and Sundays then they do during the week. A more practical solution may be to transport elderly, at-risk head trauma patients to the nearest trauma center, even if that means passing over closer facilities that may not be prepared to offer the appropriate level of care.