ER visits down during Red Sox playoff run

Updated: September 26, 2005, 11:14 AM ET
Associated Press

BOSTON -- Red Sox fever does not send people to the hospital. In fact, it seems to have the opposite effect.

According to a study published Monday in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, traffic in Boston-area emergency rooms significantly slowed during last year's Red Sox championship games.

"I have no idea where the patients go, but they don't come into the emergency room," said Dr. Alasdair Conn, the ER chief at Massachusetts General Hospital, which was included in the study.

Ben Reis and John Brownstein, researchers at Children's Hospital Boston, compared Neilsen television ratings with hospital traffic.

"We knew if we were looking for any public event that would have an effect on health care utilization, it would have to be the Red Sox championship games," Reis told The Boston Globe.

The pair used an ER surveillance system to track patient visits last fall at a half dozen hospitals in metropolitan Boston, then compared that with TV ratings for key Red Sox games.

They discovered that during the championship games, fans in three of every five households were watching. At the same time, emergency room visits dropped by about 15 percent when compared with trends for ER visits on fall evenings.

Doctors and the study's authors suspect that when the Red Sox are in the playoffs, patients who can defer an ER visit will do so.

"The heart attacks, the strokes, they will come no matter what's going on," Conn said. "The patient with pneumonia, the patient with an asthma attack will say, 'Maybe I can ride this out at home."'

There was no evidence of a surge in ER visits immediately after the game, Brownstein said.

Other big events also can slow ER visits, doctors said. Conn said the emergency department turned quiet on Sept. 11, 2001.

"It's as if when they look at TV and see what's happening, they say, 'My infected lung, it's not so bad,"' he said.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press