Most expensive hospital stays cost about $18,000 a day

The priciest hospital stays are also among the most futile. Among the top 0.5 percent of most expensive hospital stays, the average length of stay runs about 48 days and costs more than $500,000, yet more than eight in 10 of the patients involved face a major or extreme chance of dying, regardless.

This finding comes from data in Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's newly released report, Most Expensive Hospitalizations, 2008, which uses data from a database of hospital inpatient stays in all short-term, non-Federal hospitals. Data are drawn from hospitals that comprise 90 percent of all discharges in the U.S. and include patients, regardless of insurance type.

The top 5 percent of hospital stays averaged about $18,000 in charges per day in U.S. hospitals in 2008, according to the AHRQ. Hospitals charges for the most expensive stays tended to be for patients who were getting treated for septicemia, or blood infection, hardening of the arteries  and heart attacks.

The average cost for the most expensive patient stays was based on the top 5 percent of stays by cost, or about 2 million inpatient stays. The stays lasted just under three weeks (19 days). The hospitals charged on average $191,984 for those stays.

Compared with the less expensive visits, patients on more expensive hospital stays also:

  • Were much sicker. They were about 10 times more likely to experience extreme loss of function (39 percent vs. 4 percent).
  • Faced a greater risk of dying in the hospital (9 times more likely to be in the highest category for risk of death in the hospital (28 percent vs. 3 percent).
  • Were older. Their average age was 59 vs. 48.

The most commonly listed procedures among the top 5 percent were blood transfusion (28 percent), respiratory intubation and mechanical ventilation (27 percent) and diagnostic cardiac catheterization/coronary arteriography (13 percent).

The most expensive hospital stays occur at a higher rate in the Northeast and West and least in the Midwest.

To learn more:
- read AHRQ's report

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