Background Trauma centers (TCs) have been shown to provide lifesaving, but more expensive, care when compared with non-TCs (NTC). Limited data exist about the economic impact of emergency general surgery (EGS) patients on health care systems. We hypothesized that the economic burden would be higher for EGS patients managed at TCs vs NTCs. Methods The Maryland Health Services Cost Review Commission database was queried from 2009 to 2013. The American Association for the Surgery of Trauma EGS ICD-9 codes were used to define the top 10 EGS diagnoses. Demographic characteristics, TC designation, severity of illness, and hospital charge data were collected. Differences in total charges between TCs and NTCs were analyzed by Wilcoxon test using SAS 9.3 software (SAS Institute). Results A total of 435,623 patients were included. Median age was 61 years (interquartile range 47 to 76 years) and 55.9% were female. Median length of stay was 4 days; 90.3% were admitted via emergency department; and overall mortality was 5.1%. Overall median charges were $11,081 for TC vs $8,264 for NTC (p < 0.0001). Minor, moderate, major, and extreme severities of illness all had higher charges at TC vs NTC with no ICU admissions, respectfully ($5,908 vs $5,243; $7,051 vs $6,003; $10,501 vs $8,777; and $23, 997 vs $18,381; p < 0.001). Care at TCs was nearly twice as expensive if patients were admitted to the ICU, even when stratifying by severity of illness. Conclusions Emergency general surgery patients treated at TCs incurred increased costs compared with NTCs, independent of patient severity. These costs nearly doubled for those admitted to the ICU. As acute care surgery grows as a specialty, additional investigation is required to better understand the reasons for this cost differential.
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