One surgical infection with MRSA: $61,000

From a multi-state, public-private research team — Duke University, Wayne State University, and the Durham, NC VA — comes a precise and alarming calculation of MRSA’s costs in hospitals: For one post-surgery infection, $61,681.

The group compared the course, costs and final outcome of three matched groups of patients from one tertiary-care center and six community hospitals in one infection-control network run by Duke. The three groups were: patients with a MRSA surgical-site infection; patients with a surgical-site infection (SSI) due to MSSA, drug-sensitive staph; and surgery patients who did not experience infections, matched to the other two groups by hospital, type of procedure, and year when the procedure took place. (This same cohort has been described in an earlier prospective study that looked at risks for MRSA SSIs.) Altogether, there were 150 patients with MRSA SSIs, 128 with MSSA SSIs, and 231 uninfected surgery patients to serve as controls.

Here’s what they found. Patients with post-surgical MRSA infections:

  • stayed in the hospital 23 days longer
  • incurred an average extra cost of $61,681
  • were more likely to be readmitted to the hospital within 90 days
  • were more likely to die before 90 days had passed.

The authors write:

Our study represents the largest study to date of outcomes due to SSI due to MRSA. Our findings confirm that SSIs due to MRSA lead to significant patient suffering and provide quantitative estimates of the staggering costs of these infections. SSI due to MRSA led to a 7-fold increased risk of death, a 35-fold increased risk of hospital readmission, more than 3 weeks of additional hospitalization, and more than $60,000 of additional charges compared to uninfected controls.

For just the patients in this study, the excess costs (across 7 hospitals) totalled $19 million.

This is a highly useful study on several axes. First, remarkably, there has not been agreement over whether and how much of a problem MRSA poses in post-surgical settings, particularly when compared to drug-sensitive staph. This study provides careful, thoughtful, well-documented proof that combating MRSA infection is worthwhile. (NB, MRSA infections did not increase the risk of death relative to MSSA infections, which should remind us both of the often-forgotten virulence of MSSA, and also that MRSA’s perils can lie in extended illness and disability as much or more as in early death.) Second, by putting a very specific number on the cost of a post-surgical MRSA infection, it gives healthcare administrators a benchmark against which they can judge the cost of a prevention program. We’ve all heard complaints that prevention programs can be costly and their benefit is hard to measure in a bottom-line way. With this very specific number, that complaint should no longer be valid.

There’s a final point that is implied in the paper but not called out, so let me call it out on the authors’ behalf. These results are very likely an under-estimate of MRSA’s costs. That’s because, first, the specific procedures the patients underwent were cardiothoracic and orthopedic; those are not the surgical procedures most likely to be followed by a MRSA infection. And second, data collection for this study ceased in 2003, about a year after the first emergence of USA300 and several years before that very successful community strain began its current move into hospitals. However much MRSA was extant in 2003, there is more now.

The cite is: Anderson DJ, Kaye KS, Chen LF, Schmader KE, Choi Y, et al. 2009 Clinical and Financial Outcomes Due to Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Surgical Site Infection: A Multi-Center Matched Outcomes Study. PLoS ONE 4(12): e8305. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008305


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