03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated 4 days ago

The Price of Hospital Stays Around the World

Technology costs more in the United States. Physicians cost more in the United States. What about the charges of health care facilities? Today, we examine the cost of hospitalization to find more of the same. First, the average cost of a day spent in the hospital:

The average day spent in a U.S. hospital costs anywhere from 6 to 25 times the cost of staying in a hospital for a day in the world's other industrialized nations. Maybe that's because we have cable television in the room? It's actually hard to imagine what could account for such a wide disparity in prices. What happens if we take into account the average length of stay and take a look at the average hospital stay?

Surprisingly, the gap narrows slightly. What does this mean? That patients in U.S. hospitals have, on average, shorter lengths of stay than they do in other industrialized nations. It's not possible to tell from these data whether the difference is statistically significant, or whether there's any relationship between length of stay and quality of outcomes, but if we want to feel better about ourselves as a nation, I suppose we can take pride in the fact that we seem to keep people in the hospital for less time than other countries do. Hooray!

UPDATE: People are somewhat confused about the source of the data and the fact that for some countries, values of "0" are reported. First, I'd point you to the beginning post in this cost series, which explains where the data come from. As for the "0" problem, this is merely an artifact of the way in which these countries finance their health care system. For example, in the UK, the government owns the hospitals, and the financing for this comes from tax revenues, so there's no direct charge to the individual for hospitalization. I will readily admit that this makes the comparison somewhat meaningless -- please do not interpret the zeroes to mean that hospitalization doesn't cost anything in the UK or Germany. It certainly does. It just gets paid for by the citizens as a whole, rather than by the individual. (I know, I know, how socialist...)

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