Summary of "The Opportunities and Challenges for Rural Health in an Era of Health Reform" by the American Hospital Association:
In the United States 72 million Americans live in rural areas, or approximately one-fourth of the population. However, with only 2,000 rural community hospitals that are " [serving] as anchor[s] for their region's health related services, and providing the structural and financial backbone for physician practice groups, health clinics and post-acute and long-term care services," the obstacles faced by healthcare providers and patients in rural areas are extremely different than in urban areas. Rural hospitals continue to provide patients with high quality care, and yet continue to face the challenges of remote location, small size. limited staffing, and limited financial resources.
Hospitals in rural areas are typically one of the largest employers in the community and "often stand alone in their ability to offer highly-skilled jobs." Only ten percent of the United States' physicians practice in rural areas. According to Dr. Wendell Smith, practicing physician at Virginia Regional Medical Center, Duluth, MN, "You don't have the volumes. You still have to provide the same quality. You still have to buy the same equipment. You don't have the economy of scale on the equipment so your overhead is more and your reimbursements are less."
Although rural hospitals typically have low-patient volumes, more rural Americans are gaining access to Medicare and Medicaid and will create a greater patient demand that will strain already limited staff and resources. Since 60 percent of rural hospital gross revenues will come from Medicare and Medicaid these hospitals are extremely vulnerable to policy changes. With the recent Medicare and Medicaid policy changes regarding healthcare associated infections (learn more here), it is pertinent to have specialized infection control take place in these hospitals. Yet, specialists in rural areas are at an extreme shortage, on average having 54 specialists per 100,000 people.
Even though rural hospitals are vital to the United State's healthcare system they are still a vulnerable component. A significant focus of concern should be geared towards these hospitals to enforce patient safety.
To read the full article "The Opportunities and Challenges for Rural Hospitals in an Era of Health Reform" presented by The American Hospital Association click here.