The Worst Times to Be Treated for a Heart Condition

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Some months, days of the week and even times of day are linked to a greater risk of dying if you have a heart condition.

In a study of nearly 1 million hospital admissions for heart failure over 14 years, researchers were able to pinpoint the times that were associated with the highest risk of death and longest stays in the hospital. The research was presented at the Heart Failure Congress 2013 in Lisbon.

Data on the day, month and hour of hospital admissions for congestive heart failure were collected from New York hospitals between 1994 and 2007. While the number of admissions for heart failure increased through the years, death rates and length of stays declined, which the study authors credit to improved therapies for heart disease.

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On average, however, they found that patients admitted to the hospital in January, on a Friday or overnight ended up spending more time in the hospital and had a greater risk of death from heart failure than those admitted at other times. Although daily admissions for heart failure peaked in February, the majority of in-hospital deaths and longest admissions were recorded in January.

And the best times to be admitted for heart failure? Patients treated on a Monday had the shortest hospital stays and the lowest mortality rates.

The researchers say there might be something to the month, day and time correlations since they adjusted for other factors that contribute to poor outcomes for heart patients, such as heavy alcohol and drug use. They even accommodated for the fact that more people also experience heart attacks during cold weather, but the January, Friday and nighttime associations to early death remained.

It’s possible that staffing issues at hospitals during these times are part of the problem; patients who come into the hospitals just before the weekend and late at night may see fewer nursing staff members and this could contribute to less attention that may impact care.

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So data that highlights spikes in hospital admissions and mortality rates can tip off hospitals and doctors as to what times of year and day may need more vigilance. It’s also helpful for patients with heart issues to be aware of higher risk times for heart events; the study did show, for example, that many people experience problems in February or during the winter months, and that may be attributed to a combination of pressures felt during the holidays and the higher prevalence of colds and flu during that season. “People often avoid coming into the hospital during the holidays because of family pressures and a personal desire to stay at home, but they may be putting themselves in danger,” said study author Dr. David Kao, a fellow of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Personnel issues to improve care can be addressed, the authors say, but patients need to know to come to the hospital to receive treatment they need.