Length of stay now shorter but more costly

As the largest component of healthcare expenditures, inpatient hospital costs are more expensive these days. As hospitals continue to curb costs, one area of particular focus is length of stay.

In 2009, the average inpatient stay lasted 4.6 days and cost $2,000 per day (or an aggregate $9,200 for the entire stay), whereas in 1997, the average stay was 4.9 days at $1,400 per day (or $6,600 per stay), according to recent report from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP). Although the good news is that length of stay is now shorter, the bad news is that it's more costly. With 39.4 million inpatient stays at U.S. community hospitals, that adds up to $361.5 billion.

The aggregate costs of stays for nonelderly patients (age 64 and under) actually grew more quickly than those of elderly patients (patients age 65 and over), with 4.4 percent annual growth compared to 3.1 percent growth, respectively. That's because most of the expenses came from costs per day. Younger patients' average length of stay remained steady over the years at 4.1 days, while senior patients' length of stay dropped by a day from 6.4 days to 5.4.








Average length of stay (days)





Cost per stay ($)





Cost per day ($)





The report named the top conditions with the most rapidly growing aggregate costs, which was the same for the elderly and nonelderly: septicemia, spondylosis and other back problems, and osteoarthritis.

For more information:
- read the HCUP report

Related Articles:
The role of case managers in controlling hospital costs
Hypnosis reduces length of stay, drug use
Older seniors account for a large share of hospital discharges
'Virtual white board' helps to cut hospital length of stay