The costs of diabetic foot: the economic case for the limb salvage team

J Vasc Surg. 2010 Sep;52(3 Suppl):17S-22S. doi: 10.1016/j.jvs.2010.06.003.


Background: In 2007, the treatment of diabetes and its complications in the United States generated at least $116 billion in direct costs; at least 33% of these costs were linked to the treatment of foot ulcers. Although the team approach to diabetic foot problems is effective in preventing lower extremity amputations, the costs associated with implementing a diabetic foot care team are not well understood. An analysis of these costs provides the basis for this report.

Results: Diabetic foot problems impose a major economic burden, and costs increase disproportionately to the severity of the condition. Compared with diabetic patients without foot ulcers, the cost of care for patients with a foot ulcer is 5.4 times higher in the year after the first ulcer episode and 2.8 times higher in the second year. Costs for the treatment of the highest-grade ulcers are 8 times higher than for treating low-grade ulcers. Patients with diabetic foot ulcers require more frequent emergency department visits, are more commonly admitted to hospital, and require longer length of stays. Implementation of the team approach to manage diabetic foot ulcers within a given region or health care system has been reported to reduce long-term amputation rates from 82% to 62%. Limb salvage efforts may include aggressive therapy, such as revascularization procedures and advanced wound healing modalities. Although these procedures are costly, the team approach gradually leads to improved screening and prevention programs and earlier interventions, and thus seems to reduce long-term costs.

Conclusions: To date, aggressive limb preservation management for patients with diabetic foot ulcers has not usually been paired with adequate reimbursement. It is essential to direct efforts in patient-caregiver education to allow early recognition and management of all diabetic foot problems and to build integrated pathways of care that facilitate timely access to limb salvage procedures. Increasing evidence suggests that the costs for implementing diabetic foot teams can be offset over the long-term by improved access to care and reductions in foot complications and in amputation rates.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amputation / economics
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Diabetic Foot / diagnosis
  • Diabetic Foot / economics*
  • Diabetic Foot / prevention & control
  • Diabetic Foot / surgery*
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / economics
  • Health Care Costs*
  • Hospital Costs
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Health, Reimbursement
  • Length of Stay / economics
  • Limb Salvage / economics*
  • Mass Screening / economics
  • Patient Admission / economics
  • Patient Care Team / economics*
  • Quality of Health Care / economics
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • United States
  • Vascular Surgical Procedures / economics*