Study Objective: Increasing evidence indicates that routine preoperative diagnostic spirometry (pulmonary function tests [PFTs]) before elective abdominal surgery does not predict individual risk of postoperative pulmonary complications and is overutilized. This economic evaluation estimates potential savings from reduced use of preoperative PFTs.
Design: Analyses of (1) real costs (resource consumption to perform tests) and (2) reimbursements (expenditures for charges) by third-party payers.
Setting: University-affiliated public and Veterans Affairs hospitals.
Patients: Adults undergoing elective abdominal operations.
Measurements and results: Average real cost of PFTs was $19.07 (95% confidence interval [CI], $18.53 to $19.61), based on a time and motion study. Average reimbursement expenditure by third-party payers for PFTs was $85 (range, $33 to $150; 95% CI, $68 to $103), based on Medicare payment of $52 and a survey of nine urban US hospitals with a spectrum of bed sizes and teaching status. Estimates from published literature included the following: (1) annual number of major abdominal operations, 3.5 million; and (2) proportion of PFTs not meeting current guidelines, 39% (95% CI, 0.31 to 0.47). Local data were used when estimates were not available in the literature: (1) proportion of laparotomies that are elective, 76% (95% CI, 0.73 to 0.79); and (2) frequency of PFTs before laparotomy, 69% (95% CI, 0.54 to 0.84). Estimated annual national real costs for preoperative PFTs are $25 million to $45 million. If use of PFTs were reduced by our estimate for the proportion of PFTs not meeting current guidelines, potential annual national cost savings would be $7,925,411 to $21,406,707. National reimbursement expenditures by third-party payers range from more than $90 million to more than $235 million. If use were reduced, potential annual savings in reimbursements would be $29,084,076 to $111,345,440. Potential savings to Medicare approach $8 million to $20 million annually.
Conclusion: Reduced use of PFTs before elective abdominal surgery could generate substantial savings. Current evidence indicates reduced use would not compromise patients' outcomes.