Utilization and Outcomes of Inpatient Surgical Care at Critical Access Hospitals in the United States

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IMPORTANCEThere is a growing interest in the quality and cost of care provided at Critical Access Hospitals (CAHs), a predominant source of care for many rural populations in the United States.OBJECTIVETo evaluate utilization, outcomes, and costs of inpatient surgery performed at CAHs.DESIGN, SETTING, AND PATIENTSA retrospective cohort study of patients undergoing inpatient surgery from 2005 through 2009 at CAHs or non-CAHs was performed using data from the Nationwide Inpatient Sample and American Hospital Association.EXPOSUREThe CAH status of the admitting hospital.MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURESIn-hospital mortality, prolonged length of stay, and total hospital costs.RESULTSAmong the 1283 CAHs and 3612 non-CAHs reporting to the American Hospital Association, 34.8% and 36.4%, respectively, had at least 1 year of data in the Nationwide Inpatient Sample. General surgical, gynecologic, and orthopedic procedures composed 95.8% of inpatient cases at CAHs vs 77.3% at non-CAHs (P < .001). For 8 common procedures examined (appendectomy, cholecystectomy, colorectal cancer resection, cesarean delivery, hysterectomy, knee replacement, hip replacement, and hip fracture repair), mortality was equivalent between CAHs and non-CAHs (P > .05 for all), with the exception that Medicare beneficiaries undergoing hip fracture repair in CAHs had a higher risk of in-hospital death (adjusted odds ratio = 1.37; 95% CI, 1.01-1.87). However, despite shorter hospital stays (P ≤ .001 for 4 procedures), costs at CAHs were 9.9% to 30.1% higher (P < .001 for all 8 procedures).CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCEIn-hospital mortality for common low-risk procedures is indistinguishable between CAHs and non-CAHs. Although our findings suggest the potential for cost savings, changes in payment policy for CAHs could diminish access to essential surgical care for rural populations.

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