Cost of treating heart failure in an Irish teaching hospital
McGowan B, Heerey A, Ryan M, Barry M.
National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics,
St. James’s Hospital,
Background The prevalence of heart failure is between 3 and 20 per 1000 population
however this may exceed 100 per 1000 in those over the age of 65 years. It has been
estimated that 1 to 2% of total healthcare resources are consumed in the management of this
Aim As hospital costs account for approximately 70% of this expenditure we determined the
cost of treating heart failure in an Irish teaching hospital.
Methods The costing evaluation was from the hospital perspective and the strategy used was
a microcosting detailed collection of resources used.
Results The average cost of a hospital admission for the treatment of cardiac failure was
IR£2,146. The average cost per day was calculated at IR£193. Approximately 75% of
hospital costs were associated with ward costs whereas medications accounted for just 3.5%
of total costs.
Conclusion The availability of Irish cost data is essential for the assessment of the cost
effectiveness of therapeutic interventions for the treatment of heart failure in our healthcare
The diagnosis of heart failure is made in the presence of appropriate symptomatology e.g.
breathlessness, fatigue, peripheral oedema in addition to objective evidence of cardiac
dysfunction. The morbidity and mortality associated with symptomatic chronic heart failure is
high with a one year mortality rate of 20 to 30% for moderate and over 50% for severe heart
failure.1 The overall prevalence of heart failure is 3 to 20 per 1000 population but exceeds 100
per 1000 in those over 65 years.2 This prevalence is increasing in developed countries due in
part to the increasing elderly population and the modern management of conditions such as
myocardial infarction and hypertension. In the UK it is estimated that 5% of general internal
medical admissions are due to cardiac failure and that these admissions exceed those for
myocardial infarction.3,4 Therefore it is not surprising to note that between 1 and 2% of total
healthcare resources are consumed in the management of this condition. Costs associated with
hospital admissions account for up to 70% of this expenditure.5
In Ireland, figures for 1998 indicate that there were approximately 4,700 patients discharged
from hospital where the principal diagnosis was considered to be cardiac failure. When all
diagnoses of cardiac failure are considered this figure approaches 18,000. In this study, we
determined the cost of treating patients who presented to a teaching hospital with a diagnosis
of cardiac failure. This information will be helpful in estimating the resources that are
consumed in the management of this condition in our healthcare system. Furthermore, it will
provide valuable Irish cost data which may be utilised in determining the cost-effectiveness of
interventions for the treatment of heart failure.
Quantification of resource used:
Thirty patients with a primary diagnosis of cardiac failure who were admitted to St. James’s
hospital between January 1999 and March 2000 were randomly selected using the Hospital In
- Patient Enquiry system. A review of the medical records was conducted for each patient and
a database constructed to encapsulate all resources used. Details of demography, risk factors,
referral source, medical cover, length of stay in each ward, number and type of diagnostic
procedure, number of treatment procedures and quantity of medication received in hospital
were collected for each patient.
Assignment of unit costs:
The costing evaluation in this study was from the hospital perspective and the strategy used
was a microcosting approach with detailed collection of resources used. The therapeutic
classification and drug acquisition costs were derived from the September 1999 edition of the
Irish Monthly Index of Medical Specialities (MIMS).Hospital pharmacy was consulted for
any medication not included in MIMS. The finance department provided bed day costs which
included costs for nursing and allied staff, blood products and consumables. Physician and
pharmacy costs were calculated as a product of the salary ( plus PRSI ) paid to the staff
allocated to the appropriate wards and the proportion of overall bed occupancy for the cohort
patients in these wards. Costs associated with overheads (including administration and hotel
costs) were based on bed occupancy per ward for the cohort patients and square footage of
each ward as a proportion of total area of the hospital. Other consultation costs including
speech therapy, physiotherapy, medical social worker, and dietician were based on an hourly
rate calculated from average base salary, inclusive of PRSI. Procedure costs were obtained
from the relevant directorates and included materials plus staffing. Investigation costs were
provided by the relevant laboratories and are consistent with costs charged to external
The mean age of the thirty patients (19 female) admitted with cardiac failure was 76 years
(range 58 to 91 years).Eight patients were smokers, fifteen ex-smokers and seven were non
smokers. Seven patients had a history of diabetes mellitus of which six were non insulin
dependent. Ten patients had hyperlipidaemia. The underlying cause for heart failure was
ischaemic heart disease (63%), hypertension (33%), hypothyroidism (17%), cardiomyopathy
(10%) and valvular heart disease (7%).Some patients had more than one underlying cause.
Atrial fibrillation was present in nine patients (30%). All patients were classified as having
moderate (NYHA class 3, n = 18) or severe (NYHA class 4) heart failure. For ten patients this
was their first admission to hospital with heart failure for the remaining twenty it represented
readmission with recurrent failure. The average length of stay was 11.1 days (range 3 to 40
days). The total cost of hospital care for the thirty patients admitted with cardiac failure was
IR£64,400.Therefore the average cost of a hospital admission for the treatment of cardiac
failure was IR£2,146 (range IR£753 to IR£6,624). The average cost per day was calculated at
IR£193. The overall costing was subdivided into ward costs, procedures, laboratory costs,
hospital medications and ambulance costs (Figure 1).Ward cost (including staff and
administration costs, blood products and other consumables) was the area of greatest
expenditure accounting for 74.8 % of all costs in treating a patient with cardiac failure.
The total cost of medications was IR£2,253 accounting for 3.5 % of the total cost of treating
heart failure. The highest expenditure was on antibiotics, administered to 23 patients, at
IR£814 (36 % of medication costs) and bronchodilators IR£434 (19 % of costs) used to treat
25 patients. The beta agonist dobutamine was administered to two patients at a cost of IR£242
(11 % of drug costs).Fifty three percent of patients received the anticoagulants warfarin or
heparin costing IR£198.Another eleven patients received either clopidogrel or aspirin at
IR£12. Of note 83 % of patients were treated with ACE inhibitors costing IR£70.68 or 3 % of
total drug costs. All patients were treated with a loop diuretic, in combination with a thiazide
in four patients and a potassium sparing diuretic (spironolactone) in two patients. Diuretic
cost was approximately 2 % of total drug expenditure. Nitrate medications accounted for 2 %
and beta blockers which were used in three patients cost IR£0.81. The remainder of drug costs
( 18 %) arose from prescribing antiarrhythmics, analgesics, oral hypoglycaemics, thyroxine,
corticosteroids, gastrointestinal and antidepressant medications.
Figure 1: Distribution of total hospital costs for the
treatment of heart failure patients (n = 30).
£8792 = 13.7%
£48,163 = 74.8%
£1430 = 2.2%
£2253 = 3.5%
£3762 = 5.8%
The prevalence of heart failure is predicted to increase by up to 70 % by the year 2010 and
therefore is set to become a major public health problem.6 These estimates are based in part
on the increasingly elderly population. The mean age of the patients in this study was 76 years
and the average length of stay in hospital was 11.1 days. This compares favourably with UK
figures where the mean length of stay for cardiac failure related hospitalisation has been
reported as 11.4 days on acute medical wards and 28.5 days on acute geriatric wards.3,4 In the
US the average length of stay has been estimated to be in the range of 8 to 11 days.7,8 In
addition to length of stay readmission rate is an important contributor to the cost associated
with cardiac failure. In the UK approximately one third of patients are readmitted within 12
months of discharge.3,4 In our study two thirds of the patients were readmissions for treatment
of heart failure.
Studies to date indicate that the direct cost of heart failure in developed countries is between
1% and 2% of total healthcare expenditure. Furthermore, it has been suggested that up to 70%
of this expenditure is attributable to hospitalisation costs.5 The results of our study show that
the average cost of an admission for management of heart failure in the Irish healthcare
setting is IR£2,146. Therefore the average cost per day for treating cardiac failure was
IR£193. Approximately 75% of hospital costs may be attributed to ward costs i.e. IR£1,605
Investigations accounted for 19.5% of total costs and reflect diagnostic procedures in addition
to laboratory tests used to monitor therapy. Coronary heart disease is the commonest cause of
cardiac failure in Western countries and was seen in 63% of our patients.9 When considered
alone or in combination coronary heart disease and hypertension accounted for 70% of cases
of heart failure. Diagnostic procedures accounted for 5.8% of costs i.e. IR£125 per admission.
The ECG is abnormal in the majority of patients with heart failure (90%) and the combination
of a normal ECG and chest x-ray makes a diagnosis of heart failure very unlikely. As all
patients had an ECG and chest x-ray these investigations accounted for 55% of procedure
costs. Echocardiography is the single most useful non invasive test in the assessment of left
ventricular failure and ideally should be conducted in all patients with suspected heart
failure.10 However, there are resource implications and this investigation was performed in
37% of our patients.
Drug treatment accounted for 3.5% of the total costs in the management of cardiac failure.
Diuretics which are effective in providing symptomatic relief remain the first line treatment
and whilst administered to all patients accounted for just 2% of drug costs. The ACE
inhibitors are considered the cornerstone of heart failure therapy as their beneficial effects on
morbidity and mortality have been demonstrated in large clinical trials. These beneficial
effects are evident in all grades of cardiac failure ranging from mild to moderate (Munich
mild heart failure study, vasodilator heart failure trials (V-HeFT) and the left ventricular
dysfunction trial (SOLVD-T) to severe heart failure (CONSENSUS I).11,12,13 In addition to
the clinical endpoint benefits mentioned, treatment with ACE inhibitors reduce hospital
admission rates e.g. in the CONCENSUS I study patients not receiving enalapril spent 19.6%
of their study days in hospital compared with 15% for those treated with enalapril.13 As
hospitalisation accounts for the majority of healthcare expenditure for cardiac failure it is not
surprising that five independent economic analyses demonstrate ACE inhibitors to be very
cost effective.5 In a 1993 UK study, cost effectiveness was maximised by general practitioner
initiated treatment and by the earlier introduction of ACE inhibitors in the inpatient setting.
For ACE inhibitor therapy on day one where hospital costs were in excess of £200 per day,
savings were predicted.14 The importance of achieving the recommended maintenance dose of
ACE inhibitor (e.g. captopril 25 - 50 mg three times daily, enalapril 10 mg twice daily,
lisinopril 5 - 20 mg once daily or perindopril 4 mg once daily) was suggested by the
prospective assessment trial of lisinopril and survival (ATLAS) where patients randomised to
high dose i.e. lisinopril 32.5 - 35 mg (in contrast to low dose lisinopril 2.5 - 5.0 mg) had a
significant reduction in the combined end point of all cause mortality and all cause admission
to hospital.15 Therefore all patients with cardiac failure should be treated with an ACE
inhibitor unless contraindications exist or they are unable to tolerate the therapy. In our study
83% of patients received an ACE inhibitor which compares favourably with overall European
and US prescribing rates of 50 to 60%.16 The new angiotensin II receptor antagonists e.g.
losartan are appropriate alternatives where patients cannot tolerate ACE inhibitors. The
combination of nitrate and hydralazine is an alternative regimen in patients with severe renal
dysfunction where ACE inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor antagonists are contraindicated.
Digoxin was used to treat thirteen patients in our study including the nine patients with atrial
fibrillation. Studies such as the Randomised Assessment of Digoxin on Inhibitors of the
Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme (RADIANCE) and Prospective Randomised Study of
Ventricular Failure and the Efficacy of Digoxin (PROVED) trials have suggested that
worsening heart failure and hospitalisation occured less often in patients treated with digoxin.
17,18 Similarly, data from the Digitalis Investigation Group Study demonstrates that digoxin
had no effect on overall mortality in patients receiving diuretics and ACE inhibitors but it did
reduce the number of hospital admissions.19 The cost effectiveness of digoxin is highlighted
by US economic analyses indicating savings to the US healthcare system in the region of
US$100 million to US$400 million per annum.20
The results of recent placebo controlled trials demonstrate the beneficial effects of ß blockers
and the potassium sparing diuretic spironolactone when added to standard therapy in patients
with heart failure. The addition of a ß blocker has been demonstrated to reduce mortality and
the frequency of hospitalisation e.g. in the Cardiac Insufficiency Bisoprolol Study II (CIBIS
II) addition of bisoprolol to standard therapy reduced mortality and hospital admission due to
worsening heart failure by 32% over the mean follow up period of 1.3 years. A preliminary
economic analysis of the study suggested that administration of ß blockers could result in a 5
to 10% reduction in the overall expenditure in the management of heart failure.21 In our study
three patients (10%) received a ß blocker as treatment of heart failure reflecting perhaps the
difference between the trial situation where patients were relatively young (mean age = 61
years in CIBIS II study),predominantly male with left ventricular systolic dysfunction in
contrast to patients in the community who are older (mean age in our study = 76 years) and
have coexisting disorders (the majority of our patients had coexisting lower respiratory tract
infection hence the large expenditure on antibiotics and bronchodilators).Two of our patients
were treated with spironolactone 25 mg per day in addition to ACE inhibitors and loop
diuretics. This therapeutic approach has been demonstrated to reduce mortality by 30% and
decrease the frequency of hospitalisation by 35%.22
Up to 70% of expenditure in the management of heart failure is related to hospital admission.
This study presents Irish cost data following admission to a teaching hospital. The average
cost of such an admission was IR£2,146 with the average cost per day estimated at
IR£193.The availability of such data is essential for the assessment of the cost effectiveness
of therapeutic interventions for the treatment of cardiac failure in the Irish healthcare system.
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Distribution of total hospital costs for the treatment of heart failure patients.