As the United States moves toward value-based care metrics, it will become essential for anesthesia groups nationwide to understand the costs of their services. Time-driven activity-based costing (TDABC) estimates the amount of time it takes to perform a clinical activity by dividing complex tasks into process steps and mapping each step and has historically been used to estimate the costs of various health care services. TDABC is a tool that can be adapted for variable staffing models and the volume of service provided. Anesthesia departments often provide staffing for airway response teams (ART). The economic implications of staffing ART have not been well described. We present a TDABC model for ART activation in a tertiary-care center to estimate the cost incurred by an anesthesiology department to staff an ART.
Pages received by the Brigham and Women’s Hospital ART over a 24-month time period (January 2019 to December 2020) were analyzed and categorized. The local administrative database was queried for the Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) code used to bill for emergency airway placements. Sessions were held by multiple members of the ART to create process maps for the different types of ART activations. We estimated the staffing costs using the estimated time it took for each type of ART activation as well as the data collected for local ART activations.
From the paging records, we analyzed 3368 activations of the ART. During the study period, 1044 airways were billed for with emergency airway CPT code. The average revenue collected per airway was $198.45 (95% CI, $190–$207). For STAT/Emergency airway team activations, process maps and non-STAT airway team activations were created, and third subprocess map was created for performing endotracheal intubation. Using the TDABC, the total staffing costs are estimated to be $218,601 for the 2-year study period. The ART generated $207,181 in revenue during the study period.
Our analysis of ART-activation pages suggests that while the revenue generated may cover the cost of staffing the team during ART activations, it does not cover consumable equipment costs. Additionally, the current fee-for-service model relies on the team being able to perform other clinical duties in addition to covering the airway pager and would be impossible to capture using traditional top-down costing methods. By using TDABC, anesthesia groups can demonstrate how certain services, such as ART, are not fully covered by current reimbursement models and how to negotiate for subsidy agreements.
As the transition from traditional fee-for-service payments to value-based care models continues in the United States, improving the understanding and communication of medical care costs will be essential. In the United States, it is common for anesthesia groups to receive direct revenue from hospitals to preserve financial viability, and therefore, knowledge of true cost is essential regardless of payer model.1 With traditional payment models, what is billable and nonbillable may not reflect either the need for or the cost of providing the service. As anesthesia departments navigate the transition of care from volume to value, actual costs will be essential to understand for negotiations with hospitals for support when services are nonbillable, when revenue from payers does not cover anesthesia costs, and when calculating the appropriate share for anesthesia departments when bundled payments are distributed.