Trends in treatment costs of U.S. emergency department visits

Am J Emerg Med. 2022 Aug:58:89-94. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2022.05.035. Epub 2022 May 27.


Background: Spending on emergency department (ED) services in recent years has increased faster than spending in any other area of healthcare. Analyzing growth rates of ED treatment costs by patient and hospital attributes may illuminate ways to reduce overall hospital cost growth. Prior studies have examined changes in ED visit charges and expenditures over time, but little research has focused on changes in ED treatment costs.

Methods: We analyzed trends in ED treatment costs by applying the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) Cost-to-Charge Ratios for ED Files to the 2012-2019 HCUP Nationwide Emergency Department Sample. Specifically, we estimated treatment cost per ED visit, mean and total costs by patient and hospital characteristics, and compound annual growth rate in costs and patient volumes.

Results: During 2012-2019, ED treatment costs increased from $54 billion to $88 billion, a 5.4% annual growth rate-with 4.4 percentage points attributable to higher treatment cost per visit. Growth rates varied by patient and hospital attribute.

Conclusions: By highlighting overall ED cost trends, as well as specific segments of the delivery system with the most rapidly increasing costs, this study provides important information for policymakers and hospital decisionmakers.

Keywords: Costs and cost analysis; Direct service costs; Emergency medical services; Emergency service; Hospital charges; Hospital costs.

MeSH terms

  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Fees and Charges
  • Health Care Costs*
  • Hospital Costs
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • United States