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Stanford University School of Medicine

Gunshot injuries slam hefty price tag on initial hospitalizations

Gun violence in the U.S. – intentional or otherwise – poses tremendous costs to our society.

Some of the greatest expenses are indirect and estimated at $221 billion per year — ranging from adverse effects on the victims’ quality of life, victims’ lost wages, and “the fact that you can destroy communities, stop tourism and stop new industries from coming in,” according to David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center.

The most obvious direct costs come from medical expenses in the aftermath of a gun injury — visits to the emergency room, hospitalizations and the flurry of follow-up visits and long-term care. According to a Mother Jones investigative report, as much as $3.4 billion annually goes into emergency services, police investigations and long-term medical- and mental-health care costs. The actual costs of hospital visits are difficult to tease out from these figures, though, and it's unclear who actually ends up paying for them.

Now, in a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, trauma surgeons at Stanford report on a piece of the puzzle: After analyzing data from 267,265 patients, they found that gun violence resulted in initial hospitalization costs of more than $6.6 billion nationwide from 2006 through 2014 — an average of $734.6 million per year. What’s more, the government bears close to 40 percent of these costs.

From our press release on the study:

“Firearm injuries are tied to one of the most controversial political issues in the country, so it is important for all sides to have access to fact based research,” [lead author and medical student Sarabeth A. Spitzer] said. “Cost information can be especially helpful when making health policy decisions.”


The study captures costs for a very limited experience because the costs of firearm injuries continue in many different ways, Spitzer said. “There’s a cost if you’re readmitted, there’s long-term rehab, and a lot of these patients end up needing long-term health care,” she said, adding that she and her colleagues will next systematically analyze costs of hospital readmissions.

The team hopes that breaking down these costs will provide public health officials the necessary tools to inform their policy decisions on gun violence in the future.

Previously: Disconnect: The gap between gun violence and research in numbers
Photo by Wikimedia

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