Hospital stays are long, bills are hefty for COVID-19

If you’re going to the hospital to be treated for COVID-19 in Indiana, be ready for a two-week stay.

The average length of stay is 14.3 days, but that varies widely, depending on age, symptoms and underlying medical issues, according to information from the Regenstrief Institute and the Indiana State Department of Health.

On average, a patient admitted to an Indiana hospital can look forward to staying for two weeks. That’s longer that the typical length of stay for pneumonia (four to six days), a kidney transplant (four to five days) or open-heart surgery (seven to 10 days).

Nationally, the average length of stay in a hospital for all procedures is 4.5 days, according to the Agency for Health Research and Quality. The average cost is $10,400 a day.

So a COVID-19 patient is likely to get a longer hospital stay – and a larger medical bill. Nationally, the median charge—or the amount for people without insurance or who went out-of-network—for COVID-19 inpatient care was $45,683 for people in their 50s, according to FAIR Health, an independent, national not-for-profit consumer group.

Of course, that varies widely by age group. Indiana patients in their 60s have the highest length of stay for COVID-19 in Indiana hospitals: 16.4 days. Children  under 4 have the shortest length of stay: 7.6 days.

The average length of stay always varies by a day or two depending on whether the patient is sick enough to be treated in the intensive care unit. But most people who are hospitalized for COVID-19 recover.

The good news is that most Hoosiers with COVID-19 never go to the hospital, as many of the cases are mild enough to avoid a hospital visit. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that most people who get infected experience only mild symptoms, such as a fever and sore throat.

The other good news is that hospital admissions for COVID-19 in Indiana have fallen from a high of 195 on March 30 to an average of 45 for the seven days ending Sept. 11.

So what happens in the hospital for two weeks or so when a patient is being treated? Much of it is centered on helping a patient’s lung functions. COVID-19 is a respiratory disease, and symptoms generally include shortness of breath, fever, cough, fatigue, lack of appetite, and loss of taste or smell.

There is no known cure yet for COVID-19, and scientists are still trying to understand it; they are developing experimental vaccines and antibody tests to help treat patients.

Meantime, doctors and nurses in a hospital can offer supportive care, monitoring oxygen levels and providing treatment to maintain a healthy supply of oxygen to the rest of the body, according to Healthgrades, a website with comprehensive information about physicians and hospitals.

Some patients will need a nasal cannula, a tube that’s placed in the nostrils to deliver oxygen, Healthgrades says. Other patients require an oxygen mask, which can deliver high concentrations of oxygen. Some will require ventilators—a machine that places a breathing tube into the patient’s airways, forcing air and oxygen into the lungs.

The vast majority of patients who get COVID-19 experience mild to moderate symptoms (81%), while a smaller group shows severe symptoms, such as severe shortage of breath and the body not getting enough oxygen (14%). A smaller group yet experiences respiratory failure, shock or organ dysfunction (5%), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But for those who get moderate or severe symptoms, COVID-19 is not an illness with a quick turnaround. Be prepared for weeks in the hospital—and a thick envelope from your insurance company and hospital a few weeks later.

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