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Unscheduled general surgery has higher costs for older adults.

BACKGROUND: With health care costs increasing, the cost of caring for older adults is rising. Understanding the costs of surgical care for older adults is crucial in planning for health care services. We hypothesize that increasing age predicts increasing surgical inpatient costs.

METHODS: We conducted a retrospective analysis of general surgical inpatient costs at 4 hospitals over 2 fiscal years. We assessed the cost and number of procedures by age, procedure, hospital, cost category and surgical urgency. Costs were compared between surgical risk profile, urgency and age. Cost differences of 10% or more were considered clinically important.

RESULTS: We examined the surgical inpatient costs for 12 070 procedures, representing 84% of all admissions in the region. The average cost was $4351 for scheduled admissions and $4054 for unscheduled admissions. Only unscheduled admissions resulted in higher costs in older age groups, more than doubling in patients aged 80 years and older undergoing low- and moderate-risk unscheduled surgery. The higher costs for older adults was primarily because of higher postoperative costs. In addition, the screening of candidates for elective surgery may have resulted in preoperative medical optimization leading to decreased admission costs.

CONCLUSION: Older adults requiring surgery incur increased costs only if admitted for emergency surgery. The cost increase associated with unscheduled admissions was primarily for increased postoperative costs. Innovative programs to reduce costs for postoperative care for older adults undergoing emergency surgery should be investigated.

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