Patients discharged around Christmas have worse outcomes, study finds

Patients discharged around Christmas may have a higher risk of mortality or readmission compared to those discharged in November or January, according to a study published in the BMJ.

For the study, researchers examined data on 217,305 patients discharged from hospitals in Ontario, Canada, between 2002-16. Researchers focused on discharges that occurred during the two-week holiday period encompassing Christmas and New Year's Day. They also analyzed data on 453,641 patients discharged in the last two weeks of November and January.

Here are four study findings:

1. Patients discharged during the holidays demonstrated a higher risk of death and readmission within the next seven, 14 or 30 days. Those discharged during the holiday season were also less likely to attend follow-up appointments. Only 36.3 percent of patients discharged during the holidays had a follow-up within seven days, compared to 47.8 percent of patients discharged in November and January.

"We did see a big drop off in follow-up visits during this period of time and that could explain why the patients do worse," study author Lauren Lapointe-Shaw, MD, a general internist at Toronto General Hospital, told Reuters.

2. Researchers noted this difference could be due to understaffing or patients wanting to make an appointment after the holidays.

3. Overall, there were 2,999 fewer follow-up appointments, 26 more deaths, 188 extra hospital admissions and 483 extra emergency department visits per 100,000 patients discharged during the holiday season.

4. Researchers said healthcare providers should take staffing shortages into consideration when planning for the holiday season.

"They need to pay a bit of extra attention to people being discharged over the holidays," Dr. Lapointe-Shaw told Reuters. "Maybe providers need to do a little bit more to make sure follow-up appointments are made and coordination takes place."

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