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Open Med. 2011;5(2):e112-9. Epub 2011 Jun 14.

Emergency department visits during an Olympic gold medal television broadcast.

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  • 1University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.



Practice pattern variations are often attributed to physician decision-making with no accounting for patient preferences.


To test whether a mass media television broadcast unrelated to health was associated with changes in the rate and characteristics of visits for acute emergency care.


Time-series analysis of emergency department visits for any reason.


Population-based sample of all patients seeking emergency care in Ontario, Canada.


The broadcast day was defined as the Olympic men's gold medal ice hockey game final. The control days were defined as the 6 Sundays before and after the broadcast day.


A total of 99 447 visits occurred over the 7 Sundays, of which 13 990 occurred on the broadcast day. Comparing the broadcast day with control days, we found no significant difference in the hourly rate of visits before the broadcast (544 vs 537, p = 0.41) or after the broadcast (647 vs 639, p = 0.55). In contrast, we observed a significant reduction in hourly rate of visits during the broadcast (647 vs 783, p < 0.001), equal to an absolute decrease of 409 patients, a relative decrease of 17% (95% confidence interval 13-21), or about 136 fewer patients per hour. The relative decrease during the broadcast was particularly large for adult men with low triage severity. The greatest reductions were for patients with abdominal, musculoskeletal or traumatic disorders.


Mass media television broadcasts can influence patient preferences and thereby lead to a decrease in emergency department visits.

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