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Non-fatal injuries cost healthcare $1.8 trillion annually, report shows

Medical spending, future lost work from permanent disability and quality of life losses all contributed to the substantial costs of such injuries.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

A new analysis by researchers from Brown University and the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation has found that nonfatal injuries in the U.S. in 2013 cost more than $1.8 trillion. And nearly all of those injuries were preventable.

Among the findings are that, in 2013, about one in 10 people in the U.S. were treated for an injury at a hospital, resulting in an annual cost of $1.8 trillion.

IMPACT

The team analyzed anonymized data from hospital-treated nonfatal injuries and determined three different costs for the 31,038,072 injuries: total medical spending, work lost, and decreased quality of life.

Medical spending -- which included costs such as hospital and home care, emergency transportation, medicines and physical therapy -- cost $168 billion. Future lost work from permanent disability cost $223 billion, and quality of life losses cost $1.46 trillion.

Injury prevention depends on engineering, education, economics and enforcement, the authors said. For example, a well-designed child car seat is of limited use if it's not used consistently or properly.

On the enforcement side, the study found a common reason people give for not using safety devices, such as bicycle helmet, or not behaving safely, such as putting their cell phone away while driving, is that their behavior is not unlawful. The takeaway is that laws matter, and can have a tangible impact.

In addition to the total cost of injury, the researchers looked at the data by various categories including age, household income, region and cause of the injury. Injuries caused by falls and being hit by objects were the most common in all age groups. On the other hand, near-drownings, firearm-related injuries and self-harm injuries were less common, but more expensive.

Another discovery was that 12.08 million injuries were caused by falls or being hit by an object accidentally, which cost almost $808 billion in total (an average of $66,857 per injury); an additional 654,688 assaults involved hitting with an object or pushing, which cost $67.66 billion (an average of $103,352 each).

More than 3 million injuries were caused by car-related accidents -- whether to a vehicle occupant, pedestrian or cyclist -- and these cost $207 billion (an average of $67,163 each).

Though less common than car accidents, 10,772 near-drownings -- including accidents, self-harm, assaults and those of unspecified intent -- cost $3.89 billion ( an average of $361,354 per case). Meanwhile, 74,072 firearm-related injuries cost $16.32 billion (average $220,380).

Households with incomes in the bottom 25 percent experienced more injuries, accounting for 30.8 percent of all injuries; households with incomes in the top 25 percent had slightly more expensive injuries, at $64,950 per injury, compared to an average $59,687 across all income levels.

Of the 8.5 percent of patients admitted to the hospital, 38.7 percent were admitted in the South, which is proportional to the percent of the U.S. population living in the region (37.4 percent); however, injuries admitted to hospitals in the West were 11 percent more costly than average, both in terms of straight medical costs (19.8 percent) and lost work and decreased quality of life (10.4 percent).

THE TREND

While other types of injuries have yet to be addressed directly by the healthcare system, physicians and hospitals are on the front lines battling gun violence injury and death on a daily basis -- so much so, in fact, that the American Medical Association has officially dubbed it a public health crisis.

That designation was announced amidst a proliferation of high-profile mass shootings. But physicians and researchers said it's the never-ending stream of victims that come through the doors of their emergency departments that is really driving their decision to examine how they can affect change and to get started doing it.

Twitter: @JELagasse

Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com

 

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