Study: Firearm injuries account for $2.8B in emergency department, inpatient costs annually

More than 700,000 people have been treated in emergency departments for firearm-related injuries over the past decade, with such injuries accounting for about $2.8 billion in ER and inpatient costs each year, according to a new study. 

Researchers at Johns Hopkins found that 704,916 people arrived alive in emergency rooms to be treated for gun injuries between 2006 and 2014. The average cost for emergency care for these patients was $5,242 and the average cost for inpatient care was $95,887, according to the research, which was published in Health Affairs. 

More than half of the patients in the study were uninsured or self-pay, so they either bear the full burden of the costs of care or contribute to the uncompensated care burden. 

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The study did not account for people who died from firearm-related injuries before reaching the hospital, or those who did not seek emergency treatment for their injuries, so the figures are likely an underestimate of the overall burden firearm injuries put on the healthcare system, lead author Faiz Gani, M.D., a research fellow at Johns Hopkins Surgery Center for Outcomes Research, said in an announcement

"Until people are aware of the problem's full extent, we can’t have the best informed decisions to guide policy," Gani said. 

Gani said that limited research exists to delve into the costs, prevalence and risk factors related to firearm injuries, though gun-related injuries are the third-leading cause of injury-related death in the U.S. The Johns Hopkins study was released just one day after a gunman opened fire on a crowd of concertgoers in Las Vegas, killing 59 people and injuring hundreds more. 

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The overall incidence of firearm injuries in the study was 27.9 visits per 100,000 people in 2006, which declined to 21.5 visits per 100,000 people in 2013. The rate then increased again in 2014 to 26.6 visits per 100,000 people, and the researchers found that the rate also increased for people over the age of 30 during the study period. 

The majority of patients in the study were injured either by assault (49.5%) or unintentional injury (35.3%). Suicide attempts accounted for 5.3% of injuries. 

RELATED: AMA labels gun violence as a public health crisis 

Suicide attempts were twice as common among Medicare enrollees than others in the study, and those who were injured while attempting to commit suicide were most likely to be the highest income quartile.

Those injured in assaults were most likely in the lowest income quartile. Mortality rates were highest for patients over 60 (23.3%), those with severe injuries (32.7%) and those who attempted suicide (38.5%). The overall mortality rate in the study window was 8.3%.