updated 10/11/2006 9:27:42 AM ET 2006-10-11T13:27:42

When is a man’s medical emergency not all that urgent? Apparently when sports are on the tube.

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A drop in the number of men going to the emergency room during sports broadcasts on TV is followed by a surge afterward, reports an ER doctor who reviewed case numbers over three years at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.

Dr. David Jerrard’s study, released Wednesday at a meeting of emergency physicians, didn’t surprise the president of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine, Dr. Tom Scaletta. He said he saw much the same thing when he was a medical resident and earned an extra $100 a game running the emergency clinic during games at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

“It was a two-stage decision: If they were hurt, whether to go to the hospital or not. If they needed to go to the hospital, could they finish the game or not?”

Jerrard said his study is a follow-up to one he did two years ago, which found about a 30 percent drop in the number of men checking into the Baltimore hospital’s ER during sports broadcasts. The new study looks at the four-hour period starting 30 minutes after the end of televised games of the NFL, major league baseball and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams.

Overall, the number of ER visits was about 40 percent above the average for the same time and day of the week without a sportscast. The biggest increase was after college football games when an average of 15 patients came to the ER, compared to 8 during the same time period on non-game days.

Dr. Larry Baraff, an emergency medicine professor at UCLA, said he’s never noticed the pattern Jerrard describes, but added, “It’s sort of common sense. If you’ve got a certain thing you can delay for an hour or two and something you want to do, you’ll do it. Hopefully they’re not delaying treatment for serious chest pains, but I find that unlikely.”

Jerrard said his next analysis will focus on conditions treated. He wouldn’t speculate on the possibility of post-game fights as a reason for the spike in cases.

Scaletta estimated that about one-third of the Wrigley Field patients who were told to go to a hospital asked if they could wait until after the game.

At least most people having a heart attack or stroke knew they needed to leave immediately, he said. “Alcohol, of course, does change the logic stream for a lot of people.”

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