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Kids' Ear Infections Cost U.S. Health System Nearly $3B Annually: Report

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WEDNESDAY, Jan. 15, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Children's ear infections cost the U.S. health care system nearly $3 billion a year, a new study says.

Researchers analyzed the medical records of 81.5 million children younger than 18 who received care in 2009. Of those, 8.7 million were seen for ear infections. Children with ear infections averaged two more outpatient visits, 0.2 more emergency visits and had 1.6 more prescriptions filled than those without ear infections.

Ear infections were associated with an extra $314 per child per year for outpatient care and an average of $17 in additional costs for medications. In total, ear infections cost $2.88 billion in 2009, according to the study in the January issue of the journal The Laryngoscope.

"Although certain immunizations that target infection-causing bacteria may play a role in slightly reducing the overall rate of ear infections, millions of young kids will still have them," study co-author Dr. Nina Shapiro, director of pediatric otolaryngology at Mattel Children's Hospital, University of California, Los Angeles, said in a university news release.

"The take-home message is that the common ear infection is an extremely costly entity with significant financial burdens on the health care system," added Shapiro, also a professor of head and neck surgery at the UCLA School of Medicine

Ear infection (acute otitis media) is the most common ailment among young children and the most common reason for antibiotic use among all children, according to the news release.

"Although the annual incidence of ear infection may be declining in the U.S., the number of kids affected remains high, and the public health implications of [ear infections] are substantial," Shapiro said. "As our health care system continues to be vigorously discussed around the nation, efforts to control costs and allocate resources appropriately are of prime importance."

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about ear infections.


-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: University of California, Los Angeles, news release, Jan. 9, 2013

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