How Many Intensive Care Beds are Justifiable for Hospital Pandemic Preparedness? A Cost-effectiveness Analysis for COVID-19 in Germany

Appl Health Econ Health Policy. 2021 Mar;19(2):181-190. doi: 10.1007/s40258-020-00632-2. Epub 2021 Jan 12.


Introduction: Germany is experiencing the second COVID-19 pandemic wave. The intensive care unit (ICU) bed capacity is an important consideration in the response to the pandemic. The purpose of this study was to determine the costs and benefits of maintaining or expanding a staffed ICU bed reserve capacity in Germany.

Methods: This study compared the provision of additional capacity to no intervention from a societal perspective. A decision model was developed using, e.g. information on age-specific fatality rates, ICU costs and outcomes, and the herd protection threshold. The net monetary benefit (NMB) was calculated based upon the willingness to pay for new medicines for the treatment of cancer, a condition with a similar disease burden in the near term.

Results: The marginal cost-effectiveness ratio (MCER) of the last bed added to the existing ICU capacity is €21,958 per life-year gained assuming full bed utilization. The NMB decreases with an additional expansion but remains positive for utilization rates as low as 2%. In a sensitivity analysis, the variables with the highest impact on the MCER were the mortality rates in the ICU and after discharge.

Conclusions: This article demonstrates the applicability of cost-effectiveness analysis to policies of hospital pandemic preparedness and response capacity strengthening. In Germany, the provision of a staffed ICU bed reserve capacity appears to be cost-effective even for a low probability of bed utilization.

MeSH terms

  • Bed Occupancy / economics*
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology*
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Decision Support Techniques
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units / economics*
  • Pandemics
  • Planning Techniques*
  • SARS-CoV-2