Rural healthcare's patient-centered focus is a model for savings

Despite their financial woes, rural hospitals are a model for reducing healthcare expenses, according to KBIA.

Potential cuts always loom over the nation's 1,331 critical access hospitals (CAHs), and legislators wonder if there are too many hospitals to support, according to the article. But Brock Slabach, senior vice president for member services at the National Rural Health Association, said the costs are overstated.

"Critical access hospitals aren't costing the federal government what everyone seems to think [they are]," Slabach told KBIA. "The notion that the program is just a gaping hole in the federal budget is simply a myth." CAHs represent just 2 percent of the Medicare budget, and the program spends $1.5 billion less per patient in rural settings than in urban areas, according to the article.

This is due in part to the rural model's emphasis on patient-centered care, Slabach told KBIA, compared to the specialty care-centered urban model. "The only way we're going to get a handle on reducing the cost of healthcare in this country is we have to get away from this specialty domination," he said. "We need to become more holistic in treatment and in coordinating care across the continuum. And the patient-centered medical home [PCMH] is a model that does that."

Industry leaders floated PCMHs as a way to lower the cost of specialty care. While the shift to patient-centered care is cumbersome for large, urban specialty organizations, it is far easier in rural areas, Slabach said, because they "have been practicing patient-centered medical home [care] for decades … because there's not the dermatologist and the neurologist and the pulmonologist and the rheumatologist just down the hallway."

An April report found that rural hospitals match urban providers in patient outcomes and care quality, and their emergency departments operate more efficiently at lower costs. Adopting rural hospitals' spending-per-beneficiary levels could save other hospitals $6.8 billion, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the article