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-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

The Spouseless Boomerang Hospital Patient




Because of the high cost of hospital care, public-health officials value any arrangement that reduces the need for such care. And a new study clearly identifies an intact marriage as just such an arrangement.  

Conducted by researchers at Mayo Clinic, this new study analyzes the reasons that patients who are released from hospital care are readmitted to the hospital within 30 days. To identify the factors associated with an elevated risk of hospital readmission within this time period, the Mayo analysts parse data collected in 2008 and 2009 from 276 family-medicine inpatients.

Not surprisingly, patients were especially likely to return to the hospital if their hospital stay was long or if they already had a history of repeated hospitalizations. But the researchers also identify marital status as a prime predictor of readmission risk, concluding that “patients readmitted within 30 days were less likely to be married” than those who were not readmitted.

The effect of marital status on readmission indeed looms large. Using a statistical model that accounts for patients’ ages, length of hospital stay, and history of previous hospitalizations, the researchers calculate that married patients were only about half as likely as unmarried peers to be readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of discharge (Odds Ratio of 0.54; p = 0.37).

The Mayo researchers plausibly suggest that “being married had a protective effect” because married men and women who are “not living alone” naturally enjoy “greater social support” than do peers who do live alone.

The researchers recognize that their findings align with “previous work [that] has established a link between living alone and increased odds of readmission among elderly patients.” But because their new study draws on data for “patients spanning a wide age range,” the researchers assert that their findings underscore the broader significance of an intact marriage, arguing that this “important protective factor . . . should be studied further.”

As America’s medical costs continue to spiral out of control, perhaps it is time to do more than just study the beneficial effects of enduring wedlock. It is time to make fewer Americans revolving-door hospital patients by making the nation’s wedding bells ring.

(Gregory M. Garrison, Meghna P. Mansukhani, and Bradley Bohn, “Predictors of Thirty-Day Readmission Among Hospitalized Family Medicine Patients,” Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine 26.1 [2013]: 71-7.)

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