While the cat’s away …

Andrew Leigh, Elena Varganova and I have a new paper out today: “Minding the Shop: The Case of Obstetrics Conferences” (click here). It considers the interesting question of what happens to medical outcomes when doctors go away for their annual conference. The answer for obstetricians at least — and this should not surprise readers of this blog — is that there are fewer babies born. The magnitudes are reasonably large with birth rates falling between 2 and 4 percent in the US and Australia, respectively.

So you would think that this might influence when the conference is actually held. After all, births follow a persistent seasonal pattern. In the US, the optimal conference is off by a few weeks (that is, if you ignore the Christmas period which is low for tax reasons). In Australia, the current conference is in Spring; the time when the birth rate is highest! Perhaps as much planning needs to be done by obstetricians into their conference timing as goes into managing the ‘load’ around that week away.

[PS: Here is Andrew’s take with graphs]

[Update: now correlation is not causation of course but here is what was up on RANZCOG’s website (the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists) a few weeks ago:



Perth, Western Australia



Gold Coast, Queensland



Adelaide, South Australia

September /


Auckland, New Zealand

Checking back today (click here), the 2008 Conference is no longer scheduled and the 2009 Conference is now scheduled for March/April. This seems to be a far potentially less disruptive time; although May would be better. And yes (just in case you were wondering), we had forwarded RANZCOG a copy of our paper some weeks ago.]

[Update 2: The study was reported in The Australian today. Money quote:

Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists president Christine Tippett said: “They’ve done a lot of work looking at it, but I’m a bit sceptical.

“If there was some need to change, of course we’d look at it very seriously – but I would need to have some better data.”]

[Update 3: This blog post was picked up by Crikey today (5th Dec, 2006) as “While the obstetrician’s away …”]

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