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Health Care's Lost Weekend

Author: Peter R. Orszag, Adjunct Senior Fellow
October 3, 2010
New York Times

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Doctors, like most people, don't love to work weekends, and they probably don't enjoy being evaluated against their peers. But their industry can no longer afford to protect them from the inevitable. Imagine a drugstore open only five days a week, or a television network that didn't measure its ratings. Improving the quality of health care and reducing its cost will require that doctors make many changes ó but working weekends and consenting to quality management are two clear ones.

That's why an effort at New York University Langone Medical Center to institute both of these changes is so important. If it succeeds, it will help point the way to the health care system of the future.

First, weekends. It's never good to be hospitalized, but you really don't want to be hospitalized on a weekend. There are fewer doctors around, and people admitted on Saturdays and Sundays fare relatively poorly.

One study in 2007 found, for example, that for every 1,000 patients suffering heart attacks who were admitted to a hospital on a weekend, there were 9 to 10 more deaths than in a comparable group of patients admitted on a weekday. The weekend patients were less likely to quickly receive the invasive procedures they needed ó like coronary artery bypass grafts or cardiac catheterization.

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