Study: Locals bypass rural hospitals

Many patients in rural areas are passing up their community hospitals in favor of larger, non-rural providers, concluded a new report by a think tank affiliated with the Tennessee Blues.

According to the report, published by the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Institute, more than 33,000 stays at hospitals statewide in 2009 were among patients who were not being cared for at the closest available facility. The report crunched claims data from the Tennessee Blues and compared them to DRG codes.

"We hypothesized that geographic proximity to a healthcare facility would have a statistically significant influence on a patient's ability to seek care," Steven Coulter, the institute's president, told The Chattanoogan. "That hypothesis proved to be false."

The typical patient traveled more than 22 miles beyond the closest facility to seek care, according to the report.

The findings come at a tough time for rural and critical access hospitals, which are already under significant financial strain. Some rural hospitals, such as Calhoun Memorial Hospital in Georgia, loses $2 million a year even though it has only 25 beds, reported WALB News.

The report concluded further examination would be helpful in determining the reasons patients chose to bypass their local hospitals.

For more:
- read the study (.pdf)
- here's the Chattanoogan article
- read the WALB article