Overview of Hospital Stays

HCUP Statistical Brief #180

Hospital inpatient care constitutes almost one-third of all health care expenditures in the United States. Overall, hospitalizations affect a large proportion of Americans directly and represent a significant impact to the U.S economy. Although general population growth and a higher prevalence of chronic health conditions suggest that hospital utilization may increase over time, particularly among some groups, greater use of chronic disease management programs and emphasis on outpatient treatment may result in a declining trend in hospital stays.

Overview of Hospital Stays in the United States, a statistical brief from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP), presents data on characteristics of inpatient stays in U.S. community hospitals in 2012. The distribution of type of hospital stay (surgical, medical, and maternal or neonatal) is presented for different characteristics (patient age, primary payer, and hospital region). Changes in hospital utilization and costs from 2003 to 2012 are provided, along with changes in hospital utilization by primary payer and patient age.


  • In 2012, there were 36.5 million hospital stays in the United States, with an average length of stay of 4.5 days and an average cost of $10,400 per stay.
  • The rate of hospitalization decreased by an average of 0.3 percent per year from 2003 to 2008 and by an average of 1.9 percent per year from 2008 to 2012. Between 2003 and 2012, average inflation-adjusted hospital costs increased by 1.8 percent per year.
  • About 56 percent of hospital stays in 2012 were medical, 21.8 percent were surgical, and 22.2 percent were maternal or neonatal.
  • Females had a higher rate of hospitalization in 2012 than did males, but males had a longer average length of stay and higher average cost per stay.
  • In 2012, patients residing in low-income communities had a higher rate of hospitalization, a longer length of stay, and lower average hospital costs compared with patients in higher income communities.
  • The rate of hospital stays in 2012 was lower in the Pacific and Mountain divisions than in the other Census divisions. Patients hospitalized in the Northeast had the longest length of stay, and patients in the West had the highest average hospital costs.
  • From 2003 to 2012, the share of hospital stays billed to private insurance decreased from 36.6 to 30.6 percent.

Select to access Overview of Hospital Stays in the United States.

Page last reviewed October 2014
Internet Citation: Overview of Hospital Stays: HCUP Statistical Brief #180. October 2014. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/news/hcup.html