No one wants to be in the hospital during the holidays.
That being said, the rise in injuries from holiday activities makes it likely that you or a loved one will be watching Rudolph learn to fly from the waiting room of the local emergency department. And when ice on the driveway leaves you with a broken wrist, you may find yourself a low priority against the woman who electrocuted herself with a string of lights and the guy who decided it would be a good idea to trim a tree with a chainsaw.
As your anxiety about wrapping gifts with a cast is eclipsed by the awareness of wet-sounding sneezes working their way in your direction, there is yet another risk presented by hospitalization during the holidays that you may not be aware of.
Unexpected Risks of Holiday Hospitalization
If you are discharged from the hospital during the holidays, you are at a higher risk of ending up coming right back, worse than before, because the lack of follow-up care leaves you vulnerable to unaddressed complications. The main reasons for this are:
- Follow-up appointments are often not scheduled timely if at all, yet are critical to reducing readmissions and unnecessary deaths because they allow the doctor to notice signs that something worse is going on.
- Problems with staffing make it difficult to schedule a follow-up visit during the holidays because of restricted hours, closures, or doctors on vacation.
- The sheer increased volume of patients needing follow-up care from holiday-related injuries prevents patients from receiving the follow-up care they need.
Now, if you’re convinced this doesn’t apply to you, you should know that most holiday-related injuries are either preventable or inevitable.
For instance, more than two thirds of holiday-related injuries come from saying you don’t need help pulling those decorations down from the attic, using an unsteady ladder, or a slight misstep sending you tumbling off the roof.
Traveling, shopping, visiting family, and all those parties account for most of the other third of holiday-related injuries due to weather conditions on the road and an increase in drunk driving.
Add to that the colds and cases of flu sneezing their way through every member of the family, your cousin’s determination to deep fry a turkey this year, and the gifts covered in wrapping paper left too close to the fireplace, and you may as well book a reservation at the hospital now.
The Connection Between the Holidays and Readmission
The connection between the holiday season and death or readmission has long been suspected, but a 14-year study confirming it was released on December 10, 2018.
The objective was “[t]o determine whether patients discharged from hospital during the December holiday period have fewer outpatient follow-ups and higher rates of death or readmission than patients discharged at other times.”
Terrifyingly, the results of the study show that being discharged during the two week Christmas-New Year’s period, in particular, gives you a statistically higher risk of readmission or death within 30 days.
This study took place in Ontario, Canada from April of 2002 to January of 2016 and included a sample of over 600 thousand children and adults discharged from hospitals for various conditions during the two-week period between Christmas and New Year’s against two control group periods in November and January.
The study compared readmission rates and death rates of those patients who received a follow-up visit within seven days and fourteen days finding that those discharged during the holidays were:
- 11% less likely to receive follow-up care within seven days and
- 9% less likely to receive follow-up care within fourteen days.
The study suggests that the decrease in follow-up care is due to the staffing issues facing medical facilities during the holiday season and the unavailability of care this creates.
Overall, for every 100,000 patients discharged during the holidays:
- “there were 2999 fewer follow-up appointments within 14 days,
- 26 excess deaths,
- 188 excess hospital admissions, and
- 483 excess emergency department visits directly attributable to prior holiday discharge
No one wants to spend the holidays eating hospital food but with the distractions, stresses, dangerous conditions, and exposure to the reckless behavior of others, the chances of opening presents from a hospital gurney are more likely than you think.
Although many of the risks of the holiday season are not within your control to avoid, it’s even worse when you face a risk that you don’t even know is there. So, if you do find yourself wiping cranberry sauce off of your cast or bringing in the new year in a backless hospital gown, appreciate the quality of the free socks and be sure to have the hospital help you book a follow up appointment before you leave.