The open spaces in the weekend hospital parking lot on the left, compared to the crowded weekday lot on the right, is consistent with the findings of lower weekend staffing levels. (These photos are from Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital.) Source of photos: online version of the NYT article cited below.
An extensive study of heart attack patients in New Jersey finds that those who arrived at hospitals on weekends were less likely to receive aggressive treatment and were slightly more likely to die than those who arrived on weekdays, researchers are reporting today.
The study, based on an analysis of 231,164 heart attack patients admitted to New Jersey hospitals from 1987 to 2002, found a gap of almost 1 percentage point in heart attack death rates over one three-year span, 12.9 percent for weekend patients and 12 percent for weekday patients.
The deaths occurred within a month of admission.
In that period, 1999 to 2002, 10 percent of weekday patients had angioplasty to open blocked arteries on the day they were admitted, compared with 6.7 percent of weekend patients. Angioplasty within a few hours of the start of heart attacks can interrupt the attacks and save lives.
The study, led by William J. Kostis, a fourth-year medical student at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, N.J., who also has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering, is being published today in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Dr. Donald A. Redelmeier, a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto who wrote an accompanying editorial, said the higher death rate on weekends “has everything to do with staffing in hospitals.” It can mean, Dr. Redelmeier said, that not enough expert medical staff members are available on weekends for prompt and aggressive treatment.
“It’s not just that there are fewer people around, but those who are around are often spread thinner,” he added. “And there is a shift in seniority, as well. The most skilled and savvy people don’t work weekends.”
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