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  • Publication # 13-RA009

Giving flu shots to older emergency department patients is cost-effective

Patient Safety and Quality

Image of flu shot being given. Each year, there are approximately 40,000 deaths from influenza, mostly in the elderly. While vaccination is the main way to prevent cases and reduce complications, only 36 percent of adults 65 and older get a flu shot each year. Offering the flu shot to older patients seeking care from emergency departments (EDs) is a cost-effective strategy, particularly for patients older than 65 years, concludes a new study. 

Very few EDs currently offer vaccination against influenza, so this finding may help allay their fears over cost outlays, suggest the researchers. They used a decision model to duplicate a typical flu season. It included a hypothetical population of 100,000 adults 50 years of age and older during a 24-week period of flu outbreak. The costs of vaccination and health outcomes were calculated based on standard parameters. 

Three strategies were investigated: no vaccination, giving the flu shot to those over 50, and vaccinating patients older than 65. Vaccinating patients over 50 or over 65 were both cost-effective compared to not vaccinating anyone in the ED. Individuals older than 50 getting the flu shot resulted in an incremental cost of $34,610 per life saved compared to no vaccination.

By limiting vaccination to those older than 65, the incremental cost was $13,084 per life saved. This last group benefited the most from vaccination since they are less likely to get the flu shot in the community and are most at risk for flu complications. 

The study was supported in part by AHRQ (HS16737). See "Cost-effectiveness of influenza vaccination of older adults in the ED setting," by Brian W. Patterson, M.D., M.P.H., Rahul K. Khare, M.D., M.S., D. Mark Courtney, M.D., and others in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine 30, pp. 1072-1079, 2012.


Page last reviewed June 2013
Internet Citation: Giving flu shots to older emergency department patients is cost-effective: Patient Safety and Quality. June 2013. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.


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