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ER Visits Drop as Sports Fans Watch Big Games

Emergency Room Visits in Boston Declined During Key Postseason Games of Red Sox

WebMD Health News

Sept. 26, 2005 -- A medical emergency may be sidelined by many sports fans when their favorite team is winning a big game on TV.

Researchers found the ups and downs of the Boston Red Sox's World Series run in 2004 gave Boston-area emergency rooms a series of ups and downs as well.

The study showed that emergency room visits declined by up to 15% during the most-watched games of the championship series. But emergency room visits increased by about the same amount during the least-watched games when the Red Sox faced possible elimination.

"The public health finding here is people use discretion in deciding when to show up in the emergency department," says researcher Kenneth Mandl, MD, an emergency room physician at Children's Hospital Boston, in a news release.

The results of the study appear in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

The Bigger the Game, the Quieter the ER

Previous studies have shown that emergency room visits decline in general during major sporting events as people gather to watch the game at the stadium or on television.

But researchers say this is the first study to link the magnitude of the sporting event, as determined by Nielson TV ratings, to the degree of decline in emergency room visits.

Researchers compared emergency room visits at six Boston-area hospitals during the seven games of the 2004 American League Championship Series (ALCS) between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees and the four World Series games between the Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals. This was then compared with similar nongame days in 2003 and 2002.

The results showed that emergency room visits were up by about 15% during the lowest rated games -- games three and four of the ALCS -- when the Red Sox faced possible elimination.

Medical Emergencies Optional?

But when the Red Sox won game four of the ALCS, which kept them alive in the series, TV ratings surged and emergency room visits dropped about 5% below normal volume.

A more dramatic 15% decline in emergency room visits was found on both game seven of the ALCS when the Red Sox won the league championship and during the final game of the World Series.

TV ratings show more than half (55%-60%) of Boston-area households were tuned in to each of those final games, and the results suggest that the action on the field made some medical emergencies "optional."

Other studies have shown that driving-related deaths increase on Super Bowl Sunday.

In the Red Sox study researchers looked only at emergency room visits during the hours of the games themselves, not afterward when drunken fans may be heading home.

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