The Relationship Between Rural Health Clinic Use and Potentially Preventable Hospitalizations and Emergency Department Visits Among Medicare Beneficiaries

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Abstract

Purpose

High rates of potentially preventable hospitalizations and emergency department (ED) visits indicate limited primary care access. Rural Health Clinics (RHCs) are intended to increase access to primary care. The goal of this study was to evaluate the role of RHCs and their impact on potentially preventable hospitalizations and ED visits among Medicare beneficiaries based on actual individual-level utilization patterns.

Methods

With Medicare Part A and Part B claims data from 2007 to 2010, we constructed a series of individual-level negative binomial regression models to examine the relationship between RHC use and the number of potentially preventable hospitalizations and ED visits.

Findings

RHC use was associated with a 27% increase in potentially preventable hospitalizations and a 24% increase in potentially preventable ED visits among older Medicare enrollees. Among younger, disabled Medicare beneficiaries, RHC use was associated with a 14% increase in potentially preventable hospitalizations and an 18% increase in potentially preventable ED visits. Potentially preventable hospitalizations and ED visits were more common among beneficiaries who were black or who had more chronic conditions.

Conclusions

The results of our study highlight that the Medicare population using RHCs is at especially high risk for potentially preventable hospitalizations and ED visits. The mechanisms behind this are not well understood and should receive continued attention from policy makers and researchers.

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