Surgeon’s Birthday – A Matter of Life and Death

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Surgeon's Birthday can likely increase the risk of patient dying post-surgery
Source: UCLA
  • Around 20-30% of patients undergoing surgeries suffer complications during the procedure and 5-10% end up dying.
  • A team of researchers at UCLA analyzed over 900,000 procedures performed between 2011 and 2014.
  • The study found a higher 30-day mortality rate for patients undergoing operations on the surgeon’s birthday.

Although multiple factors can affect a surgery’s outcome, researchers believe distractions play a key role in causing patient mortality. Distractions can occur due to the operating room set-up and even personal events in the surgeon’s lives. However, obtaining information about a surgeon’s distracting life events is difficult. Therefore, researchers investigated the association between operations performed on a surgeon’s birthday and patient mortality rate. Hypothesizing birthdays as potential personal distractions in the life of a surgeon and thus, affecting patient outcomes.

To investigate their hypothesis, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) analyzed 980,876 emergency surgical procedures. 0.2% of which took place on a surgeon’s birthday. Patients who underwent operations on surgeons’ birthdays and those who underwent operations on other days, both had similar characteristics. Such as severity of illness, comorbidities, age, and predicted mortality.

Surgeon’s Birthday Increases the Risk of Patients Dying

The primary outcome measured was patients’ 30-day mortality rate. That is, death within 30 days post-surgery. The team of researchers published their findings in the medical journal BMJ.

The results showed a 23% higher risk for patients aged 65 and above who underwent operations on a surgeon’s birthday. Furthermore, even after adjusting for patient characteristics, the mortality rate remained higher. Thus, making it unlikely that patient factors accounted for higher mortality rates.

Our study is the first to show the association between a surgeon’s birthday and patient mortality, but further research is needed before we make a conclusion that birthdays indeed have a meaningful impact on surgeons’ performance. At this point, given that evidence is still limited, I don’t think patients need to avoid a surgical procedure on the surgeon’s birthday.

Dr. Yusuke Tsugawa, study author

Limitations of the Study

The findings suggest that life events such as birthdays can serve as a distraction for surgeons and affect their performance. These distractions can occur due to conversations centered around birthdays and, message notifications on phones. Furthermore, surgeons might be in a hurry to complete the procedure and thus, make more errors.

However, due to limited data researchers could not establish a causal relation between mortality rate and birthdays. Moreover, their sample included patients between the ages of 65 to 99 years and therefore findings cannot be generalized to younger people.

Reference:

Kato Hirotaka, Jena Anupam B, Tsugawa Yusuke. Patient mortality after surgery on the surgeon’s birthday: observational study BMJ 2020; 371 :m4381. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m4381

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