Death rate higher for patients who have procedure on surgeon's birthday, study finds

Older patients who have an operation on their surgeon's birthday have a higher 30-day mortality rate, a study published Dec.10 in The BMJ found.

Researchers at Los Angeles-based UCLA Health analyzed outcomes data for Medicare patients who underwent 980,876 emergency procedures between 2011 and 2014. More than 47,000 surgeons were included in the analysis, and about 2,000 procedures occurred on surgeons' birthdays.

The overall unadjusted 30-day mortality rate for patients who underwent operations on their surgeon's birthday was 7 percent, compared to 5.6 percent for patients who had surgery on a different day. After adjusting for factors that may influence patient outcomes, patients in the former group still had a 23 percent higher risk of dying within 30 days.

Researchers cited several potential reasons for this correlation, including that surgeons may feel more rushed to complete the procedure on time or that discussions about the surgeon's birthday plans may pose a distraction to the operating room team. 

"Our study is the first to show the association between a surgeon's birthday and patient mortality, but further research is needed before we make a conclusion that birthdays indeed have a meaningful impact on surgeons' performance," lead author Yusuke Tsugawa, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, said in a news release. "At this point, given that evidence is still limited, I don't think patients need to avoid a surgical procedure on the surgeon's birthday."

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