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Cha-Ching! The Total Cost for a Hip Fracture Is ...

Posted on: 11/30/1999
Hip fractures are costly accidents--both to society and to individuals. This Belgian study set out to put a number to that cost. Researchers located 159 women with a mean age of 79 who had suffered their first hip fracture. Researchers then recorded the women's medical history and medical costs for the hip fracture and over the following year. This data was compared to the same information from a control group of 159 elderly women who were about the same age and lived in the same neighborhoods or nursing homes as the women with hip fractures.

Let's crunch the numbers. The average cost of hospitalization for the hip fracture was--cha-ching--about $9500 in U.S. money. Medical costs for hip fracture patients was almost $13,500 in the first year after leaving the hospital. This compares to $6170 for a year of medical care in the control group--a difference of about $7300. Much of the difference could be traced to stays in nursing homes (31%) and rehab centers (31%). The rest of the increase was from hospitalizations (16%) and home physical therapy services (14%). Two-fifths of the extra costs were accrued during the three months after leaving the hospital. These amounts compare fairly well to costs in the U.S. and to two other studies that have been done on the economic costs of hip fractures. Whew!

What do all those numbers mean? Older women who have a hip fracture will have about three times the health care costs of older women who don't have hip fractures. Obviously, the best way to decrease these costs is to avoid hip fractures in the first place. And medical professionals need to refocus their efforts on controlling costs. The authors say that most efforts so far have gone into decreasing the length of the hospital stay. This may help reduce hospital costs, but it may simply shift more of the total cost to the nursing homes. The authors suggest that new efforts should focus on reducing the time spent in nursing homes or rehab centers.

Cost is not simply measured in dollars. It's also a measurement of life and death. Of the hip fracture patients, 13% died within the year after hospitalization. Only 3% of the control group died. The control group may have been a healthier bunch than the hip fracture patients to begin with, which would skew the numbers a little bit. Still, the higher death rate is a good reminder that hip fractures are serious business--that carry a serious cost in both dollars and in health.

Patrick Haentjens, MD, PhD, et al. The Economic Cost of Hip Fractures Among Elderly Women: A One-Year, Prospective, Observational Cohort Study With Matched-Pair Analysis. In The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. April 2001. Vol. 83-A. No. 4. Pp. 493-500.

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