Rural Residents Who Are Hospitalized in Rural and Urban Hospitals: United States, 2010

In 2010, 17% of the U.S. population lived in rural (nonmetropolitan) areas. Many rural areas are medically underserved due to physician (especially specialist) shortages. Rural hospitals often are small, with a low volume of services, and have difficulty remaining financially viable under the regular hospital prospective payment system. Special Medicare hospital payment categories have been established so that rural residents have access to hospital care without traveling to urban areas. The share of rural residents’ hospitalizations that take place in urban (metropolitan) compared with rural hospitals has been of interest for a number of years. Those who go to urban hospitals have been described as “bypassing” rural hospitals.

A new NCHS report compares characteristics of rural residents who stay in rural areas with those who travel to urban areas for their inpatient care.

Key Findings from the Report:

  • Sixty percent of the 6.1 million rural residents who were hospitalized in 2010 went to rural hospitals; the remaining 40% went to urban hospitals.
  • Rural residents who remained in rural areas for their hospitalization were more likely to be older and on Medicare compared with those who went to urban areas.
  • Almost three-quarters of rural residents who traveled to urban areas received surgical or nonsurgical procedures during their hospitalization (74%), compared with only 38% of rural residents who were hospitalized in rural hospitals.
  • More than 80% of rural residents who were discharged from urban hospitals had routine discharges (81%), generally to their homes, compared with 63% of rural residents discharged from rural hospitals.
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