Real money: complications and hospital costs in trauma patients

Surgery. 2008 Aug;144(2):307-16. doi: 10.1016/j.surg.2008.05.003.


Background: Major postoperative complications are associated with a substantial increase in hospital costs. Trauma patients are known to have a higher rate of complications than the general surgery population. We used the National Surgical Quality Improvement Program (NSQIP) methodology to evaluate hospital costs, duration of stay, and payment associated with complications in trauma patients.

Methods: Using NSQIP principles, patient data were collected for 512 adult patients admitted to the trauma service for > 24 hours at a Level 1 trauma center (2004-2005). Patients were placed in 1 of 3 groups: no complications (none), >or=1 minor complication (minor, eg, urinary tract infection), or >or=1 major complication (major, eg, pneumonia). Total hospital charges, costs, payment, and duration of stay associated with each complication group were determined from a cost-accounting database. Multiple regression was used to determine the costs of each type of complication after adjusting for differences in age, sex, new injury severity score, Glasgow coma scale score, maximum head abbreviated injury scale, and first emergency department systolic blood pressure.

Results: A total of 330 (64%) patients had no complications, 53 (10%) had >or= 1 minor complication, and 129 (25%) had >or= 1 major complication. Median hospital charges increased from $33,833 (none) to $81,936 (minor) and $150,885 (major). The mean contribution to margin per day was similar for the no complication and minor complication groups ($994 vs $1,115, P = .7). Despite higher costs, the patients in the major complication group generated a higher mean contribution to margin per day compared to the no complication group ($2,168, P < .001). The attributable increase in median total hospital costs when adjusted for confounding variables was $19,915 for the minor complication group (P < .001), and $40,555 for the major complication group (P < .001).

Conclusion: Understanding the costs associated with traumatic injury provides a window for assessing the potential cost reductions associated with improved quality care. To optimize system benefits, payers and providers should develop integrated reimbursement methodologies that align incentives to provide quality care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Hospital Charges
  • Hospital Costs*
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Health
  • Insurance, Health, Reimbursement
  • Intensive Care Units / economics
  • Length of Stay
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Wounds and Injuries / classification
  • Wounds and Injuries / complications*
  • Wounds and Injuries / economics*