“Weekend Effect” Makes Routine Surgeries More Dangerous for Kids

Sometimes even healthy people need emergencies surgeries, like appendectomies. While many of these surgeries are routine, they are still scary for the patients. And they may be even scarier for parents who have to see their children through them. Medical malpractice is a possibility in any surgery. While most of these surgeries turn out just fine for everyone involved, a new study shows that these surgeries may be more dangerous for kids on weekends than on other days of the week.

Increased Risk of Death

A study performed by researchers at Johns Hopkins shows that simple emergency surgeries for children are more likely to result in complications or death if they are performed on weekends. The researchers note that deaths from these surgeries, which include things like hernia repairs and appendix removals are very rare no matter what day of the week they occur. Its just that while weekend deaths are rare, they are more common than weekday deaths. And the researchers do not know why. Senior investigator Fizan Abdullah, a pediatric surgeon at Johns Hopkins University Children’s Center, says, “Numerically speaking, the number of deaths was quite small, but even a single preventable death is one too many.”

The results of the study were published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Pediatric Surgery. The study was based on analysis of records involving nearly 440,000 pediatric admissions. The admissions took place all over the United States over the course of twenty-two years. These records show that children who underwent emergency procedures on weekends were 63 percent more likely to die than children who underwent the same emergency procedures on weekdays. A total of thirty deaths are attributed to this weekend effect over the course of the twenty-two year study period, meaning slightly more than one death per year.

While researchers do not know what causes the increased likelihood of death on a weekend, they have some theories. Possible factors include the fact that some hospitals have smaller staffs available on weekends and slower response times. Also, there is a decreased availability of certain imaging and laboratory tests on the weekends.

Increased Risk of Complications

In addition to the increased risk of death, children who were operated on during the weekend were more likely to suffer complications involving inadvertent wound lacerations or punctures. These complications suggest either that a medical professional erred, or that equipment malfunctioned during the surgery. These complications were 40% more likely on weekends. Additionally, weekend patients were 14% more likely to need blood transfusions. This finding is a little strange, because these patients were no more likely to suffer serious blood loss during surgery than their weekday counterparts. Researchers theorize that the increased need for transfusions may have something to do with the post-operative care the kids receive on the weekends.

The important thing to remember is that, while these risks are scary, these surgeries are generally safe. If a child needs an emergency appendectomy, he or she should have the emergency appendectomy according to the doctor’s advice, even if it is a weekend. Waiting until a weekday would likely cause must more serious harm to the child and could even result in death. These numbers do mean, however, that parents should continue to be vigilant about their children’s medical care.

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