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Multiple factors make the holidays riskier for hospital visits

With the holidays upon us, many of our physicians are taking long vacations. A number of experienced physicians in hospital emergency rooms and urgent care centers may be doing the same. This can leave patients who fall off a ladder hanging Christmas lights or crash their brand new mountain bike over the holidays in the hands of less experienced health care providers or waiting long periods to be seen by anyone.

A recently published study indicates that holiday periods, weekends and even nighttime can be riskier times for patients due to medical errors, staff fatigue and lack of staffing. Researchers looked at data from patients who were treated and discharged from hospitals in Ontario, Canada. The study covered over 670,000 patients between 2002 and 2016.

Researchers found that those who were discharged between Christmas and New Year's had a 13 percent higher chance of being readmitted or dying within a week than other times of the year. That grew to almost 26 percent in the month following their discharge.

This was attributed in part to people having fewer follow-up appointments after their discharge. The study's lead author notes that these patients "are not getting as much of the optimal transitional care that we would like them to get."

A medical school professor not involved in the study asserts that a combination of hospital and patient factors could be behind the numbers. Hospitals have fewer people on staff. They also may discharge patients sooner than they normally would so they can spend the holidays at home.

Meanwhile, changes in eating and drinking habits over the holidays can be detrimental to people's health. The fact that people may not seek medical treatment promptly because they'd rather stay home and continue to enjoy the holiday festivities could be a factor as well.

No matter what time of the day, week or year people find themselves in the hospital, they have a right to expect good care. If someone is a victim of malpractice, understaffing, inexperience and fatigue are not valid excuses. If you believe you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice, it's wise to seek legal guidance.

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