Patients more likely to die if their surgery takes place on the surgeon’s birthday


A new study notes elderly patients who endured emergency surgery on their sawbones’ birthday had substantially higher 30-day morbidity rates than those whose procedure happened on any other day of the year.

Regarding the “surgeon’s birthday” communal, the 30-day death-rate (characterized as death within a month post-surgery) was 6.9%. This was twenty-three percent higher than the rate of 5.6% for the “other day” bunch. The study looked at roughly 981,000 procedures conducted in US hospitals by 47,500 surgeons. Of those operations,  0.2% (2,065) went down on a surgeon’s birthday. The recipients were aged 65 to 99 and all Medicare beneficiaries. Between 2011 and 2014, all of the patients were subjected to one of 17 ordinary emergency surgical processes.

As the researchers compose: “The effect size of surgeons’ birthday observed in our analysis (1.3 percentage point increase or a 23% increase in mortality), though substantial, is comparable to the impact of other events, including holidays (e.g., Christmas and New Year) and weekends.” Though, the authors state the “natural experiment” in the latest study is more divulging than, say, holiday-related morbidity rates. Reason being “those events not only affect physicians’ performance but also influence patients’ decision to seek care (e.g., patients seeking care on these special days might be sicker than those seeking care on other days), as well as hospital staffing.”

The researchers suggest a few possible justifications for this “birthday effect.” These consist of bothersome birthday-related text messages or phone calls; rushing through an emergency surgery to not be late to after-work birthday activities; more discussions with well-wishing co-workers; and a reduced likelihood to return to the hospital that night if a patient’s condition worsens. They too discovered that various surgeons ‘played hooky’ from work on their birthdays.


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Aaron Granger


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