For the new study, a team from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto analyzed 2002-2016 data on more than 217,000 adults and children who were discharged from hospitals in the province of Ontario during the Christmas break. These patients were compared with nearly 454,000 people discharged in late November and January.
People discharged during the holiday period had a higher risk of death or readmission within one week, two weeks and one month after leaving the hospital, the findings showed. The highest risk (16 percent) was within the first seven days.
In addition, patients discharged during the holidays were 39 percent less likely to have a follow-up appointment within seven days, possibly due to wanting to put if off until the new year, study author Lauren Lapointe-Shaw, of Toronto General Hospital, and her colleagues said.
According to the report, per 100,000 patients, there were 26 more deaths, 188 more readmissions, 483 more emergency department visits and 2,999 fewer follow-ups among those discharged during the holidays.
The report was published Dec. 10 in the BMJ.
Several factors may explain the findings, the study authors said, including reduced access to care, difficulty in booking appointments and lower staffing levels during the holidays.
However, the study cannot prove cause and effect.
In addition, excessive eating and drinking, higher levels of stress, and lack of sleep are common during the holidays and could affect the health of recently discharged patients, the researchers noted in a journal news release.
The study findings show the need for doctors to focus on discharge planning and coordination of care during the holiday season, the researchers concluded.
Previous studies have found an increased risk of death or readmission for patients admitted to the hospital on Fridays or weekends, compared with those admitted on weekdays.