Patients with severe heart problems are more likely to survive during the dates of national cardiology conferences when many of the nation’s top physicians are absent from hospital operating rooms. On Monday, the American College of Cardiology conference wraps up in San Diego. Pixabay

This is a great time to have a serious heart problem. Monday marks the final day of the annual American College of Cardiology conference in San Diego, and research suggests patients admitted to hospitals for cardiac arrest enjoy a 10 percent boost in their chances of surviving -- because their cardiologist is away at the annual conference.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School have found that high-risk heart patients at teaching hospitals who are admitted during the dates of national conferences on cardiology -- when their cardiologist is more likely to be in sessions than inserting stents -- have a higher rate of survival.

“Something is different in those hospitals on those dates than on the non-meeting dates and the question is -- What is that?” Dr. Anupam Jena, who led the research as an expert in health care policy at Harvard Medical School, says in a video statement.

The answer could save lives. For two of the three conditions he studied, Jena says patients were “much less likely to die” in hospitals during annual meetings than those who were treated just a few days before or after. His team found a 10 percent decrease in mortality for patients who suffered cardiac arrest during the conferences of two major professional organizations -- the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association. On an average day when their cardiologist wasn’t away at these meetings, 70 percent of those patients died within 30 days while 60 percent died within 30 days if admitted during a conference.

"That's a tremendous reduction in mortality, better than most of the medical interventions that exist to treat these conditions," Jena says. High-risk patients with heart failure also seemed to benefit from a doctor’s absence -- they suffered mortality rates of 25 percent on non-meeting days compared with 18 percent during a conference.

To uncover this relationship, Jena’s team analyzed Medicare data from 263 teaching hospitals for three serious cardiac conditions -- heart failure, heart attacks and cardiac arrest – from 2002 to 2011 and published their results in JAMA Internal Medicine in December. A decrease in mortality was not found for heart attack patients, those deemed to be "low-risk" or for any patients at non-teaching hospitals.

Jena is not sure why these annual meetings seem to correlate with better health outcomes in the hospitals that cardiologists leave behind, but he suspects it may have something to do with the tendency of remaining staff to administer fewer invasive procedures.

“One explanation is that ‘less is more’ for certain patients and doing more aggressive treatments might harm them,” Jena says. Many of the “high-risk” patients who experienced a boost in survival likely had other medical conditions that put them at greater risk of complications or side effects from aggressive treatments.

Dr. Patrick O’Gara, president of the American College of Cardiology, told NPR that he was glad to hear that mortality did not increase during the conference and suggested to the Associated Press that the study was not specific enough to draw any conclusions for treatment. Last year, nearly 14,000 physicians attended the American College of Cardiology gathering, as tallied by the Healthcare Convention and Exhibitors Association. There are 31,500 cardiologists nationwide, according to Cegedim.