Receiving medical care at a general hospital in a large city versus at a critical-access hospital in a rural area may mean the difference between life and death for patients. Critical-access hospitals provide medical services to people living in small cities and rural areas. Despite the convenience of allowing people to seek medical treatment closer to home, medical mistakes may occur at such facilities that result in complications or death for patients.
Rural Hospitals and Increased Patient Mortality
Patients who undergo common surgical procedures, including joint replacements and other orthopedic surgeries, at rural medical facilities instead of general hospitals may have an increased risk of complications that result in death. According to The Wall Street Journal, Medicare billing data showed that patients had approximately a 34% greater chance of dying within 30 days of undergoing a major orthopedic procedure at a critical-access hospital than those who underwent the same procedures at general hospitals. Factors, including inexperience, limited resources, and financial incentives may contribute to the increased mortality rate for patients at critical-access hospitals.
Inexperience on the part of the health care professionals who staff small rural health care facilities may play a role in the increased mortality risk at these hospitals. Lacking the opportunities to regularly perform certain procedures, the physicians at critical-access hospitals may not have the same experience as those who treat patients at larger facilities. Consequently, the health care providers at small rural hospitals may have greater chances of making mistakes or of missing potential red flags that may warn of possible adverse medical events.
Limited resources at small rural hospitals may contribute to the increased risk of preventable patient deaths. Without the same resources as larger health care facilities, critical-access hospitals may lack the most current medical technologies and equipment. Using older equipment or outdated technologies may compromise the care patients receive.
Although small rural hospitals may lack the experience and up-to-date facilities and equipment to take on elective surgeries and other such procedures, they may do so to take advantage of the financial benefits. Many rural medical facilities hold a special status with Medicare. As such, Medicare may pay out more in benefit reimbursements for services rendered to critical-access hospitals than to general hospitals. Instead of sending patients to other facilities for elective procedures, these rural facilities may perform them in-house to increase their revenues.