A new US study shows that even minimally injured alcohol-impaired drivers account for higher emergency department (ED) costs than other drivers . The study reports that alcohol was involved in 41% of all motor vehicle crash fatalities in 2006. The economic impact of alcohol impaired driving was estimated at US$51 billion, with medical costs accounting for 15% of that figure. It is estimated that alcohol is involved in as many as one in eight motor vehicle crashes, bringing the total to 600 000 cases each year. Alcohol complicates the clinical assessment of patients within an ED as the patient’s perception of pain may be blunted and a period of observation may be warranted until the patient is judged to be coherent enough for an accurate examination. The study found that the median charges for patients under the influence of alcohol were higher by $4538. A large percentage of that cost can be directly correlated to a higher frequency of diagnostic imaging studies and the rising costs of those studies. In addition, the median length of stay for alcohol-positive patients was higher by 3.3 hours when compared to alcohol-negative patients.
1. Lee M.H., Mello M.J., Reinert S. Emergency department charges for evaluating minimally injured alcohol-impaired drivers. Ann Emerg Med 2009; 54: 593–9. Links