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Emergency department visits drop during Olympic gold medal hockey game: study


Hockey mania has hit a fevered pitch with the Game 7 face-off of the Stanley Cup finals. New research conducted at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) shows fewer Emergency Department (ED) visits happen during major sports broadcasts as exemplified by last year’s Olympic gold medal hockey game.

“We found the Olympic men's ice hockey final led to a 17 per cent reduction in Emergency Department visits, equal to a decrease of more than 136 fewer patients per hour throughout Ontario,” says principal investigator and ICES Senior Scientist Dr. Donald Redelmeier. “This means that Emergency Department overcrowding worsens if no major hockey game is on television.”

“Our study is not about one exciting event; instead, the point is about the other 365 days of the year. Namely, Emergency Department overcrowding is often blamed on suboptimal physicians, administrators, or computer systems. Our study suggests that another large contributor is patient preferences,” says Redelmeier who is also a physician at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

The Olympic men's ice hockey final was identified as the most popular television broadcast in Canadian history. The study analyzed all emergency visits throughout Ontario for the entire day. This new study found:

  • A 17 per cent reduction in emergency visits, equal to a decrease of about 136 fewer patients per hour during the broadcast.
  • No offsetting increase was observed during the time intervals before or after the broadcast.
  • The greatest decreases were for middle-class middle-aged men, yet reductions were still evident for women and at all income levels.
  • The largest reductions were for patients with abdominal pain, joint pain, or trauma. In contrast, a small increase was observed in cardiac emergencies.
  • If the 17 per cent reduction was sustained, such a decrease would save $100 Million annually.

“Efforts to reduce healthcare costs need to consider the choices that patients make for themselves. Economic analyses need to be informed by insights from behavioral science. Physicians should not always be blamed for high healthcare costs,” says Redelmeier.

The study “Emergency department visits during an Olympic gold medal television broadcast” appears in the June 13, 2011 issue of Open Medicine: www.openmedicine.ca

ICES is an independent, non-profit organization that uses population-based health information to produce knowledge on a broad range of healthcare issues. Our unbiased evidence provides measures of health system performance, a clearer understanding of the shifting healthcare needs of Ontarians, and a stimulus for discussion of practical solutions to optimize scarce resources. ICES knowledge is highly regarded in Canada and abroad, and is widely used by government, hospitals, planners, and practitioners to make decisions about care delivery and to develop policy.



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