Most people have heard that if you don’t have to go into the hospital for care over the year-end holidays, you probably shouldn’t. The reasoning is that hospitals are likely to be short-staffed and the medical professionals who are there are likely to be younger, less-experienced ones who couldn’t get out of working over the holidays. Is this fact or fiction?
Hospitals typically do have fewer people working over the holidays. It’s not like half the staff is out, but a slight decline in staff coupled with a tendency for people to eat and drink too much, climb on ladders (and rooftops) to decorate, discuss politics and other stressful topics with relatives they normally don’t have to see and engage in winter sports can lead to more patients in emergency rooms.
It may not be best to schedule an elective procedure over the holidays (and your doctor may not be available for it). However, for some people who get a week or two off, it can be the most convenient time to get it done and not miss work. Of course, if you need a procedure done as soon as possible (like cancer surgery), you’d probably be advised not to wait even a couple of weeks.
What one study found
One study compared the two-week period surrounding Christmas and New Year’s and found that patients discharged during this period “are less likely to have prompt outpatient follow-up and are at higher risk of death or readmission within 30 days.”
This is caused by a combination of a number of factors. For example:
- Hospitals tend to discharge patients sooner than they typically would because of their staffing shortages.
- Nurses are less likely to spend the required time giving a patient post-procedure instructions because of their understaffing issues.
- Patients who are supposed to see their doctor for a follow-up exam are less likely to return as directed (and may be less likely to get a reminder from their doctor’s office to schedule one).
Certainly, doctors and other medical professionals owe their patients a duty of care that should remain consistent throughout the year. Understaffing, inexperience and distraction by holiday celebrations are no excuse for negligence. If you believe you or a loved one is the victim of medical malpractice, it’s best to seek legal guidance to determine what options you have for justice and compensation.