The economic footprint of acute care surgery in the United States: Implications for systems development

Document Type



General Surgery


Background: Acute care surgery (ACS) comprises trauma, surgical critical care, and emergency general surgery (EGS), encompassing both operative and nonoperative conditions. While the burden of EGS and trauma has been separately considered, the global footprint of ACS has not been fully characterized. We sought to characterize the costs and scope of influence of ACS-related conditions. We hypothesized that ACS patients comprise a substantial portion of the US inpatient population. We further hypothesized that ACS patients differ from other surgical and non-surgical patients across patient characteristics.
Methods: We queried the National Inpatient Sample 2014, a nationally representative database for inpatient hospitalizations. To capture all adult ACS patients, we included adult admissions with any International Classification of Diseases-9th Rev.-Clinical Modification diagnosis of trauma or an International Classification of Diseases-9th Rev.-Clinical Modification diagnosis for one of the 16 AAST-defined EGS conditions. Weighted patient data were presented to provide national estimates.
Results: Of the 29.2 million adult patients admitted to US hospitals, approximately 5.9 million (20%) patients had an ACS diagnosis. ACS patients accounted for US $85.8 billion, or 25% of total US inpatient costs (US $341 billion). When comparing ACS to non-ACS inpatient populations, ACS patients had higher rates of health care utilization with longer lengths of stay (5.9 days vs. 4.5 days, p < 0.001), and higher mean costs (US $14,466 vs. US $10,951, p < 0.001. Of all inpatients undergoing an operative procedure, 27% were patients with an ACS diagnosis. Overall, 3,186 (70%) of US hospitals cared for both trauma and EGS patients.
Conclusion: Acute care surgery patients comprise 20% of the inpatient population, but 25% of total inpatient costs in the United States. In addition to being costly, they overall have higher health care utilization and worse outcomes. This suggests that there is an opportunity to improve clinical trajectory for ACS patients that in turn, can affect the overall US health care costs.

Publication (Name of Journal)

The journal of trauma and acute care surgery