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How Does Degree of Rurality Impact the Provision of Surgical Services at Rural Hospitals

Doty, Brit, Zuckerman, Randall, Finlayson, Samuel, Jenkins, Paul, Rieb, Nathaniel, Heneghan, Steven
Journal of rural health 2008 v.24 no.3 pp. 306-310
rural areas, rural hospitals, surgery, surgeons, surveys, sampling, data analysis, United States
Context: Rural residents frequently have decreased access to surgical services. Consequences of this situation include increased travel time and financial costs for patients. There are also economic implications for hospitals as they may lose revenue when patients leave the area in order to obtain surgical services. Rural communities vary in size and distance from more populated centers. Since rural hospitals are located in varying types of rural communities, they likely differ with regard to the provision of surgical care. Purpose: To describe the differences between hospitals located in smaller versus larger rural areas regarding the provision of surgical care. Methods: A 12-item survey instrument based on one previously used in a pilot study was mailed to a national random sample of rural hospital administrators (n = 233). Rural location was determined using rural-urban commuting area codes. Findings: One hundred and eleven surveys were received, yielding a 48% response rate. Hospitals in larger rural areas had an average of 9 surgeons compared to 1 at hospitals in smaller rural areas. More administrators at hospitals located in larger rural areas viewed the ability to provide surgical care as very important to the financial viability of their hospital. Conclusions: Among rural hospitals located in communities of varying sizes there are significant differences in how surgical services are delivered and the financial importance of providing surgical care. Administrators at hospitals located in larger rural areas, more than in smaller ones, report financial reliance on their ability to offer surgical care and have significantly more resources available to do so.