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Kidney Stone Treatments can be Risky and Costly

Update Date: Apr 30, 2014 11:06 AM EDT

Kidney stone treatment and removal is considered a low-risk procedure. In a new study, researchers reported that this supposedly low-risk procedure could lead to complications. The study found that nearly 14 percent of the patients end up with high medical costs and longer hospital stays.

For this study, the team analyzed over 93,000 patients with private insurance who were hospitalized in the United States for kidney stone. The researchers focused on three different types of treatments, which were shock-wave lithotripsy, ureteroscopy and percutaneous nephrolithotom. In shock-wave lithotripsy, doctors use a lithotripter to crush up the kidney stone. In ureteroscopy, a long, tube-like tool is used to break the stone. In percutaneous nephrolithotom, a wire thin instrument is used to locate and remove the stone. All three procedures require anesthesia according to the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

Overall, one in seven kidney stone patients suffered from complications that led to a longer hospital stay or emergency care within 30 days post treatment. These complications cost the patients an average of $30,000 each. The researchers found that the highest rate of complications was in patients who had ureteroscopy at 15 percent. 12 percent of patients had complications due to shock-wave lithotripsy. The highest average cost due to complications was $47,000 per patient who underwent percutaneous nephrolithotom. Patients paid an average of $32,000 each for complications arising from shock-wave lithotripsy.

The researchers added that patients who received care at hospitals that dealt with more cases of kidney stones fared better than patients who received care at hospitals that did not perform the procedures as often.

"Our findings provide a good starting point to understand why these complications are happening and how they can be prevented, because the costs to patients who suffer complications and to the health care system are substantial," lead author Dr. Charles Scales Jr., an assistant professor of surgery at Duke University, said according to WebMD. "From the patient perspective, an unplanned emergency department visit or hospital admission after a low-risk ambulatory procedure is a significant event. Kidney stones are excruciatingly painful and primarily affect people who are of working age. These patients face not only the cost of treatment, but also the financial difficulties from time off work due to pain and treatment."

He added, in the press release, "Reducing unplanned emergency visits and hospitalizations associated with kidney stone treatments could result in significant cost savings if the causes can be identified and addressed."

The study was published in Surgery.

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