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March 5, 2013

For the 10 most common ED procedures, costs vary widely

Daily Briefing

Being treated for a urinary tract infection (UTI) in the ED can cost as little as $50 or up to $73,000, according to a new study that found wide variation in costs for the 10 most common ED procedures.

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For the study, published in PLoS One, University of California-San Francisco researchers analyzed data from ED visits for 8,303 patients using 2006-2008 data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Researchers looked only at ED visits that did not result in hospitalizations and identified the cost as the total bill charged to the patient or insurer. Of the patients—ages 18 to 64 years old—nearly half were privately insured.

They found that the cost of treating:

  • A strain or sprain ranged from $4 to $24,110;
  • A headache ranged from $15 to $17,797;
  • A kidney stone ranged from $128 to $39,408; and
  • An intestinal infection ranged from $29 to $29,551.

"Our study shows unpredictable and wide differences in health care costs for patients,'' lead author Renee Hsia says.

Overall, the study identified $2,168 as the average cost to treat one of the ten conditions in the ED. An upper respiratory infection was the least costly condition to treat, with a median price of $740, while a kidney stone was the costliest condition to treat, with a median price of $3,437.

"Patients actually have very little knowledge about the costs of their health care, including emergency visits that may or may not be partially covered by insurance," Hsia says, adding that "[m]uch of this information is far too difficult to obtain" (Medical News Today, 3/1; Preidt, HealthDay/Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/28).

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