There 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.OBJECTIVE
To evaluate utilization, outcomes, and costs of inpatient surgery performed at CAHs.DESIGN, SETTING, AND PATIENTS
A 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.EXPOSURE
The CAH status of the admitting hospital.MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES
In-hospital mortality, prolonged length of stay, and total hospital costs.RESULTS
Among 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 RELEVANCE
In-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.