Emergency Surgeries on Weekends Riskier for Kids: Study

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FRIDAY, July 11, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Children who have emergency surgery on weekends are at greater risk for complications and potentially even death than those who have weekday surgeries, according to a new study.

However, the Johns Hopkins researchers noted that the risk of death was "miniscule."

The researchers analyzed data on nearly 440,000 simple emergency surgeries that children across the United States underwent over a 22-year period.

The surgeries are considered generally safe and included hernia repair, appendix removal, draining and cleaning of infected wounds, treatment of broken bones, and draining excess fluid in the brain.

Children who had weekend surgeries were 40 percent more likely to suffer surgical complications, and 14 percent more likely to require a blood transfusion than those who had weekday surgeries, according to the study.

Also, children who had weekend surgeries were 63 percent more likely to die than those who had weekday surgeries. However, the researchers noted that the risk of death was "miniscule," with only 30 deaths over the 22 years attributable to what's called the "weekend effect."

"Numerically speaking, the number of deaths was quite small, but even a single preventable death is one too many. This demands that we examine any factors that may cause or contribute to such occurrences and find ways to prevent them," study senior investigator Dr. Fizan Abdullah, a pediatric surgeon at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore, said in a Hopkins news release.

The researchers did not examine the possible reasons why children who have emergency surgery on weekends were more likely to suffer complications than those who have weekday surgeries. However, possible factors include fewer hospital staff on weekends, slower response times and less availability of certain imaging and lab tests, the study authors said.

"These are provocative findings and, we hope, a conversation starter," study lead author Dr. Seth Goldstein, a pediatric surgery resident at Johns Hopkins, said in the news release. "Our next step is to understand the what, how and why behind this alarming disparity."

The study was published in the July issue of the Journal of Pediatric Surgery.

More information

To learn more about pediatric surgeons, visit the American Pediatric Surgical Association.