NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

A Simple Reminder Can Help Save Money

May 19, 2011

Reminding surgical staff about the expense of taking daily blood samples (phlebotomy) from patients for routine blood work appears to reduce the practice, a new study finds.

"The use of laboratory tests has been rapidly increasing over the past few decades to the point where phlebotomy is a substantial proportion of hospital expenditure, and much of it is unwarranted," write Dr. Elizabeth A. Stuebing, of the University of Miami, and Dr. Thomas J. Miner, of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Stuebing and Miner calculated the amount spent on taking blood samples and laboratory tests per patient and for all patients in three surgical services at Rhode Island Hospital.

  • At the start of the study, average per-patient daily costs were about $148 and the overall weekly cost was $36,875.
  • During the study, the lowest per-patient phlebotomy charge was $108 (27 percent lower) and the lowest overall weekly cost was $25,311.
  • By the end of the 11-week study, about $55,000 had been saved, according to the researchers.

"We focused on simply providing the economic implications of wasteful ordering habits, specifically regarding phlebotomy," the researchers write.  "This study successfully showed that even without technical and time-consuming interventions, test ordering behavior can be greatly reduced by making health care providers aware of costs."

Source: Sandy Ikeda, "Unnecessary Blood Tests Plunge After Cost Reminders," U.S. News & World Report, May 17, 2011. Dr. Elizabeth A. Stuebing and Dr. Thomas J. Miner, "Surgical Vampires and Rising Health Care Expenditure," Archives of Surgery, May 2011.

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