Objective To estimate the incremental costs associated with sepsis as a complication of general surgery, controlling for patient risk factors that may affect costs (eg, surgical complexity and comorbidity) and hospital-level variation in costs.
Design Database analysis.
Setting One hundred eighteen Veterans Health Affairs hospitals.
Patients A total of 13 878 patients undergoing general surgery during fiscal year 2006 (October 1, 2005, through September 30, 2006).
Main Outcome Measures Incremental costs associated with sepsis as a complication of general surgery (controlling for patient risk factors and hospital-level variation of costs), as well as the increase in costs associated with complications that co-occur with sepsis. Costs were estimated using the Veterans Health Affairs Decision Support System, and patient risk factors and postoperative complications were identified in the Veterans Affairs Surgical Quality Improvement Program database.
Results Overall, 564 of 13 878 patients undergoing general surgery developed postoperative sepsis, for a rate of 4.1%. The average unadjusted cost for patients with no sepsis was $24 923, whereas the average cost for patients with sepsis was 3.6 times higher at $88 747. In risk-adjusted analyses, the relative costs were 2.28 times greater for patients with sepsis relative to patients without sepsis (95% confidence interval, 2.19-2.38), with the difference in risk-adjusted costs estimated at $26 972 (ie, $21 045 vs $48 017). Sepsis often co-occurred with other types of complications, most frequently with failure to wean the patient from mechanical ventilation after 48 hours (36%), postoperative pneumonia (31%), and reintubation for respiratory or cardiac failure (29%). Costs were highest when sepsis occurred with pneumonia or failure to wean the patient from mechanical ventilation after 48 hours.
Conclusion Given the high cost of treating sepsis, a business case can be made for quality improvement initiatives that reduce the likelihood of postoperative sepsis.