FRIDAY, June 1, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Smokers who have elective surgery have much higher hospital costs than nonsmokers, a new study finds.
Postsurgical respiratory complications are a major reason for these increased costs among smokers, according to lead author Dr. Aparna Kamath, a clinical assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, in Iowa City, and colleagues.
The researchers analyzed data on nearly 15,000 patients -- mostly white males -- who had a general surgery procedure at one of 123 Veterans Affairs Medical Centers over a one-year period. Thirty-four percent of patients were current smokers, 39 percent were former smokers, and 27 percent had never smoked.
Total inpatient hospital costs were 4 percent higher for current smokers compared to patients who never smoked. This translated into an average higher cost of about $900 for smokers. Former smokers did not have significantly higher costs than patients who never smoked.
When the researchers focused on more complex surgeries, they found that hospital costs for smokers were 6 percent higher than for patients who never smoked.
Further investigation revealed that postsurgical respiratory complications, not the length of hospital stay, accounted for the higher costs among smokers.
The study appears in the June issue of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.
"Although our research did not directly address this issue, evidence suggests that quitting smoking before an operation, even as little as four to six weeks prior to the procedure, improves postoperative outcomes and decreases complications in patients," Kamath said in an American College of Surgeons news release. "I think it's important to use the time before a surgical procedure as a teachable moment."
The American Society of Anesthesiologists has more about stopping smoking before surgery.