WSJ reviews the book ‘Random Acts of Medicine’ »

In one intriguing study spanning a decade and involving 200,000 patients, a surprising revelation emerged. Patients who happened to have a heart attack during a week when hot-shot cardiac surgeons were away at national conferences were found more likely to survive. It sounds like a joke—stay away from hospitals because that’s where lots of people die—but the statistics are solid. The heart surgeons most likely to attend the national meetings also tend to be the go-getters, eager to cut and demonstrate their prowess in the operating theater. When these surgeons are away, mortality rates decrease by about 12.5%, a decrease “similar in magnitude to some of the best treatments we have available for heart attacks.” (Emphasis in the original). The president of the American Heart Association breezily dismissed the study’s findings, saying, “there’s nothing in this study that we see that would lead us to recommend a change in clinical practice.” Such dismissal in the face of significant evidence feels akin to malpractice.