Background — Practice pattern variations are often attributed to physician decision-making with no accounting for patient preferences.
Objective — To test whether a mass media event unrelated to health was associated with changes in the rate and characteristics of visits for acute emergency care.
Design — Time-series analysis of emergency department visits for any reason.
Subjects — Population-based sample of all patients seeking emergency care in Ontario, Canada.
Measures — The event day was defined as the Olympic men’s gold medal ice hockey game final. The control days were defined as the 6 Sundays before and after the event day.
Results — A total of 99 447 visits occurred over the 7 Sundays, of which 13 990 occurred on the event day. Comparing the event day with control days, the investigators found no significant difference in the hourly rate of visits before the telecast (544 vs. 537, p = 0.41) or after the telecast (647 vs. 639, p = 0.55). In contrast, the investigators observed a significant reduction in hourly rate of visits during the telecast (647 vs. 783, p < 0.001), equal to an absolute decrease of 409 patients, a relative decrease of 17% (95% confidence interval 13–21), or about 136 patients per hour. The relative decrease during the telecast was particularly large for adult men with low triage severity. The greatest reductions were for patients with abdominal, musculoskeletal or traumatic disorders.
Conclusion — Mass media events can influence patient preferences and thereby lead to a decrease in emergency department visits.