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Risk of death higher with weekend hospital visit, study finds

A study by the Canadian Institute for Health Information found the likelihood of dying for patients admitted on a weekend was 4 per cent higher over all than for patients admitted on a weekday.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

A new report suggests that Canadians admitted to hospital on a weekend for emergency medical or surgical care have a slightly higher risk of dying than those with a weekday admission.

The study by the Canadian Institute for Health Information found the likelihood of dying for patients admitted on a weekend was 4 per cent higher over all than for patients admitted on a weekday.

The CIHI study did not turn up the "weekend effect" for obstetric, mental health or pediatric patients.

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Researchers found that those who had emergency surgery had a 7 per cent higher chance of dying if admitted on the weekend, while emergency medical-care patients had a 3 per cent higher risk of death.

The study found that both heart attack and stroke patients waited longer for diagnostic tests on the weekend, but only heart attack patients appeared affected by weekend admissions. They had an 8 per cent higher risk of dying.

CIHI says another possible reason for the small but significant weekend effect is hospitals having lower staffing levels than they do on weekdays.

"It is important to keep in mind that the study was only able to analyze the most serious outcome – death," said Kathleen Morris, director of Health System Analysis and Emerging Issues at CIHI. "Individual hospitals are in the best position to monitor key contributors to successful patient outcomes: appropriate treatments, patient experience and wait times."

The weekend-effect phenomenon isn't new: researchers in a number of countries have found even higher rates of death linked to Saturday-Sunday admissions, with one recent U.S. study finding urgent care patients having a 15 per cent increased risk of dying when admitted on a weekend.

The CIHI study released Thursday examined four million urgent acute-care admissions in Canadian hospitals from 2010 to 2013.

Each year, there are about 1.25 million admissions to Canadian hospitals and about 75,000 in-hospital deaths among urgent medical and surgical patients. CIHI estimates that about 400 of these deaths may be due to the weekend effect.

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