Q: Recently, my husband was admitted into the hospital for emergency surgery on a Friday. He’s fine now, but things didn’t go well at the time and he was readmitted a week after he was released. I think it was because the B team was working over the weekend. Any truth in that?
Cheryl W., Oakland, California
A: We can’t comment on your husband’s situation, but studies find that in the U.S., patients who had surgery on weekends experienced longer hospital stays and more-frequent readmissions. That’s called the “weekend effect.” Fortunately, that is changing, according to researchers from Loyola University.
We used to think that staffing problems and, as you called it, the presence of the B team was to blame. But after looking at 127,221 patients at 166 hospitals who underwent urgent general surgical procedures, the researchers found that the biggest difference between hospitals that overcame the weekend effect and hospitals that didn’t was the availability of electronic medical records — something that is now being required by the Affordable Care Act.
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Hospitals where doctors had access to electronic records for patients they had never seen before did a better job of taking care of the patients and reduced the readmission rate. True, other factors such as a higher nurse-to-bed ratio, the presence of social workers and availability of CT scans help assure better patient outcomes on the weekends. But by far the biggest difference came from having electronic medical records.
The Affordable Care Act says: “Using electronic health records will reduce paperwork and administrative burdens, cut costs, reduce medical errors and most importantly, improve the quality of care.” And they do! And more and more hospitals are getting in line, since the government can withhold Medicare payments to hospitals that don’t comply.
So if you have to go into the hospital for surgery on the weekend and you have a choice of where you go, try to select a facility that has your medical record available to everyone from emergency-room nurses to the surgeon who will do your procedure.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at