Hospitalizations and Winter Weather

During the harsh winter months, it’s quite common for snow, ice and sleet to disrupt travel plans. Unfortunately, such inclement weather also seems to interfere with badly needed medical care.

Four Hospitals, Many Patients

A 2017 report, led by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, concluded that wintry conditions routinely prevent adults from making hospital visits. Publishing their work in the American Journal of Epidemiology, this study reviewed data collected from four prominent hospitals located in the Boston, MA area:

  • Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
  • Brigham and Women’s Hospital
  • Boston Medical Center
  • Massachusetts General Hospital

In total, the authors examined the medial histories of over 430,000 adults who had been hospitalized in one of these hospitals. Specifically, these individuals had sought medical care during the months of November through April, for conditions such as frostbite and cardiovascular disease. Moreover, those who had suffered weather-related injuries also had their hospitalization histories reviewed.

A Wintry Blockade

The research team likewise paid close attention to the weather during this time period. Of particular interest were days with small amounts of snowfall (between 0.05 to 5 inches), moderate snowfall (5.1 to 10 inches) and heavy snow (over 10 inches). Not only did the authors document hospital admissions for days with the preceding amounts of snow, but also reviewed hospitalizations for the following six days.

What they found seemed to confirm that snowy conditions can make hospital trips difficult. In contrast to snow-free days, days marked by heavy snowfall saw recorded admissions for heart problems fall by nearly a third. Interestingly enough, adults seeking hospital care for heart issues spiked by 23 percent two days after such weather. In other words, there is reason to believe that snow storms effectively forced the subjects to delay medical care for a significant period of time.

Admissions related to cold-weather saw a 4 percent jump on days when more than 10 inches of snow fell. The team further noted that, following moderate-snowfall days, hospitalizations for falls increased nearly 20 percent in the preceding six day period.

The study’s senior author, Jennifer Bobb of the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, emphasized that “with global climate change, major snowstorms may become more frequent and severe. Understanding trends in hospitalizations related to snowfall will help us develop ways to protect public health during harsh winter conditions.”

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