News & Commentary

Infections' True Cost Difficult to Pin Down

When the total costs to society are considered, health care-associated infections (HAIs) acquired in acute-care hospitals are as big an expense as cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, according to a study in the Journal of Medical Economics. Such infections cost between $96 billion and $147 billion annually, says “Economic Burden of Healthcare-Associated Infection in U.S. Acute Care Hospitals: Societal Perspective.”

Researchers admit that assessing those costs is challenging. “Methodological issues abound,” they write. “Previous estimates have been derived in diverse ways from varied perspectives in different settings with dissimilar data. Results can be confusing. Full societal costs, which are more inclusive than commonly reported direct hospital costs, have never been fully measured or reported.”

The authors claim that they are the first to take on this daunting task. To do so they conducted Internet and literature searches for reports, clinical studies and component cost reports.

The data include:

  • Epidemiologic information, including total annual hospitalizations and readmission rates
  • Economic data, including use of clinical resources and lost work days and life years
  • Legal data, including malpractice claims stemming from HAIs and the amounts of settlements

They suggest ways to improve outcomes that will have the added benefit of compiling better data for future studies. They argue for “improved surveillance systems, uniform clinical and economic measures for HAI cost accounting, standards for assessments, and precise reporting of results.”

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