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Ann Emerg Med. 1996 Dec;28(6):671-6.

Distribution of emergency department costs.

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Department of Health Management and Policy, University of Michigan School of Public Health, Ann Arbor, USA.



To report the distribution of emergency department costs by category of expense and level of patient urgency.


Cost-to-charge and relative-value methods were used to determine direct and indirect physician, facility, supply, pharmacy, laboratory, radiology, and miscellaneous costs for 24,010 ED patients. Explicit criteria were used to classify patient visits as nonurgent, semiurgent, or urgent.


For all patients, the average costs were physician, $64; facility, $84; laboratory, $21; radiology, $24, and total, $209. Laboratory and radiology costs accounted for 5% of the total costs for nonurgent visits and 23% of the total costs for urgent visits.


The distribution of ED costs varies significantly according to the urgency of the medical condition. For nonurgent patient visits, most costs are represented by the hospital facility and ED physicians' costs. Ancillary services represent a much greater proportion of costs for patients with urgent conditions. Although reduced test-ordering might result in some savings among patients with urgent conditions, overall improved cost efficiency can be achieved only through reductions in the fixed costs of operation of hospital EDs.

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