There is a scarcity of imaging services offered in a large number of critical access hospitals (CAHs) across the U.S., according to a study published recently in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.
Using American Hospital Association survey and census data, Amir A. Khaliq, Ph.D, of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, and colleagues, looked at imaging data--including mammography, ultrasound, CT, MRI, single photon emission CT, and combined CT--and studied the availability and characteristics of these services at 1,060 CAHs in 45 states.
The researchers found there to be a tremendous variation in availability of these services nationally. For example, while mammography, ultrasound, and some form of CT were the most widely available of imaging services at CAHs, they were available in all CAHs in just 13 percent, 33 percent, 56 percent of all states respectively. They further determined no state provided 64-slice CT, MRI, single photon emission CT, and combined PET/CT in all critical access hospitals.
The researchers also pointed out that since about 20 percent of the nation's population lives in rural areas and relies almost exclusively on critical access hospitals for their healthcare needs, their findings have serious public health policy implications as far as imaging access is concerned.
Critical access hospitals currently are under quite a bit of pressure. The critical access program was created by Congress in 1997 to combat an increasing wave of closures in rural areas to ensure that populations in these more isolated areas would have access to healthcare.
Recently, however, it has been targeted for cuts. President Obama's proposed 2015 budget includes a provision to reduce enhanced Medicare payments to CAHs, according to Becker's Hospital CFO, which if adopted would cost these hospitals $1.7 billion dollars over the next 10 years. In addition, the proposal would remove CAH designation from facilities that are within 10 miles of each other.