Making Greater Use of Dedicated Hospital Observation Units for Many Short-Stay Patients Could Save $3.1 Billion a Year

Using observation units in hospitals to provide care to certain patients can be more efficient than admitting them to the hospital and can result in shorter lengths-of-stay and lower costs. However, such units are present in only about one-third of U.S. hospitals.

The authors of this study estimated national cost savings that would result from increasing the prevalence and use of observation units for patients whose stay would be shorter than 24 hours. Using a systematic literature review, national survey data, and a simulation model, they estimated that if hospitals without observation units had them in place, the average cost savings per patient would be $1,572, annual hospital savings would be $4.6 million, and national cost savings would be $3.1 billion.

Future policies intended to increase the cost-efficiency of hospital care should include support for observation unit care as an alternative to short-stay inpatient admission.