Healthcare News & Insights

How critical access hospitals measure up for common surgeries

While much has been said about the safety of high-volume hospitals regarding certain procedures, smaller facilities may be faring better than expected. In fact, new research suggests that rural critical access hospitals are doing just as well as their larger, urban counterparts in some areas. 

GettyImages-459985817Researchers from the University of Michigan looked at data from hospital stays due to four common procedures: colon surgery, gallbladder removal, appendectomy and hernia repair. They compared the outcomes for Medicare patients at critical access hospitals with those of patients who went to larger hospitals for their surgeries.

According to a press release, their findings were detailed in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). And there were quite a few surprises.

For one thing, the risk of suffering a big complication post-surgery, including a heart attack or kidney damage, was lower at critical access hospitals than at larger facilities.

In addition, these patients received their care at lower costs – an average of about $1,400 less than patients who received their operations at larger facilities.

And patients at critical access hospitals weren’t any more likely to die within 30 days of the procedure than patients at bigger hospitals. Plus, they were less likely to be admitted to a skilled nursing facility after their surgeries.

Comparable outcomes

Data reviewed for the study showed that patients who received these four surgeries at critical access hospitals were healthier to begin with than their counterparts at larger hospitals.

This may look like it skews the results in favor of the critical access hospitals, but researchers don’t see it that way. Rather, they suggested this indicates how surgeons at critical access hospitals are doing well at prioritizing their caseloads, only operating on the types of patients the hospital can handle and sending more complex cases to larger facilities.

Plus, even when accounting for this practice, patients who received care at critical access hospitals still had equal or better outcomes than patients from larger hospitals.

Future at stake

This information comes at a time where the future of many critical access hospitals is up in the air.

Many of these facilities are at a risk of closing due to lack of funds and resources. Some have shut their doors already. And the pressure is on for lawmakers to revisit the policies that pay critical access hospitals for providing surgeries and other medical services to patients.

Past studies have cast doubt on whether critical access hospitals provide the best care for patients with conditions such as pneumonia and heart attacks. And with low-volume hospitals getting bad press because of negative patient outcomes for surgeries, some may wonder whether critical access hospitals can pull their weight in this area.

But this new research proves that critical access hospitals can play an important role in improving care for patients across the continuum of care. Many patients who receive surgery at these facilities don’t have access to a variety of hospitals close by, and studies have shown that outcomes are better if patients stay close to home for procedures, if possible.

Giving patients the choice of having a procedure near their homes, instead of hundreds of miles away, can help boost quality overall – and it helps decrease the strain on larger facilities by keeping them from being overloaded with patients. So critical access hospitals are key partners in improving health care delivery overall.

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