'Weekend effect' may not result in an increase in patient deaths after all

Patients may no longer have to worry that they have a greater chance of dying when admitted to hospitals over the weekend.

A new national study in England, published today in the Journal of Health Services Research and Policy, says the death rate following a weekend hospital admission is higher only because the number of patients admitted to hospitals on weekends is lower.

Previous research on the "weekend effect" has shown that patients from all over the world who are admitted to hospitals on Saturday and Sunday are more likely to die within 30 days than those with similar conditions who are hospitalized during the week.

But researchers at the University of Manchester said that previous studies only looked at patients who were admitted to the hospital. The latest study looked at all patients who went to emergency departments at 140 hospitals in England between April 2013 and February 2014, the number of admissions to the hospitals, and the number of deaths in the hospitals within 30 days of admission. They then compared admissions and deaths of patients admitted over the weekend and those admitted during the week.

The number of patients who visited the emergency room over the weekend were similar to those who arrived on weekdays. But researchers found that hospitals admitted 7 percent fewer patients during the weekend.

The research team says that the result indicate that patients who go to the ER over the weekend are no more likely to die that patients who seek care there during the week.

Figures that compare death rates at weekends and weekdays are skewed, study authors say. "Hospitals apply a higher severity threshold when choosing which patients to admit to hospital at weekends--patients with non-serious illnesses are not admitted, so those who are admitted at the weekend are on average sicker than during the week and more likely to die regardless of the quality of care they receive," said coauthor Matt Sutton of the Manchester Centre for Health Economics at the University of Manchester, UK, in a study announcement.

Earlier research this year also provided an alternate explanation for the weekend effect. Researchers said at the time that patients weren't sicker than patients admitted during the week, but they were significantly older and more disabled.

To learn more:
- here's the study abstract
- read the announcement