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Hospital Standard of Care and the "Weekend Effect"

When someone goes to the hospital with serious injuries, it shouldn't matter what day of the week it is. The legal standard of care remains the same, after all, throughout the week. And if someone is harmed by a downward deviation from that standard, he or she has a right to pursue a medical malpractice claim.

But evidence from recently published research on trauma hospitals in Pennsylvania suggests that patients who go into the hospital over the weekend may receive better care than those who went in during the work week.

The research examined the records of over 90,000 patients over a five-year period. Researchers expected to find no difference between weekend care and work week care in trauma centers. After all, trauma centers are required to have the same number of responders (surgeons, nurses, and so on) available at all times to deal with serious car accident injuries, gunshot wounds, and other crises.

What the researchers found, however, was that people were slightly less likely to die if they went into the hospital at off-hours - after 6 pm on Friday or before 9 am on Monday. The data showed that no matter when hospital admission occurred, about seven of every 1,000 patients died. But after controlling for the extent of the injuries and other factors, the researchers concluded that patients had a better chance of surviving if they arrived during off-hours.

How could this be? "The hospital is fundamentally different" during off-hours," commented Brendan Carr, the University of Pennsylvania medical school professor who lead the research study. "The operating room is empty. The blood bank is not distracted by other activities," and this can make a difference in the quality of care.

Source: "Injured patients fare slightly better on weekend," Reuters, 3-22-11

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