Rural hospital inpatient surgical volume: cutting-edge service or operating on the margin?

  • Abstract

    Surgical services are an important part of modern health care, but providing them to isolated rural citizens is especially difficult. Public policy initiatives could influence the supply, training, and distribution of surgeons, much as they have for rural primary care providers. However, so little is known about the proper distribution of surgeons, their contribution to rural health care, and the safety of rural surgery that policy cannot be shaped with confidence. This study examined the volume and complexity of inpatient surgery in rural Washington state as a first step toward a better understanding of the current status of rural surgical services. Information about rural surgical providers was obtained through telephone interviews with administrators at Washington’s 42 rural hospitals. The Washington State Department of Health’s Commission Hospital Abstract Recording System (CHARS) data provided a count of the annual surgical admissions at rural hospitals. Diagnosis-related group (DRG) weights were used to measure complexity of rural surgical cases. Surgical volume varied greatly among hospitals, even among those with a similar mix of surgical providers. Many hospitals provided a limited set of basic surgical services, while some performed more complex procedures. None of these rural hospitals could be considered high volume when compared to volumes at Seattle hospitals or to research reference criteria that have assessed volume-outcome relationships for surgical procedures. Several hospitals had very low volumes for some complex procedures, raising a question about the safety of performing them. The leaders of small rural hospitals must recognize not only the fiscal and service benefits of surgical services–and these are considerable–but also the potentially adverse effect of low surgical volume on patient outcomes. Policies that encourage the proper training and distribution of surgeons, the retention of basic rural surgical services, and the rational regionalization of complex surgery are likely to enhance the convenience and safety of surgery for rural citizens.

  • Authors:

    Williamson HA Jr, Hart LG, Pirani MJ, Rosenblatt RA

  • Journal/Publisher:

    J Rural Health

  • Edition:

    Nov 1994. 10(1):16-25

  • Link to Article

    Access the article here: J Rural Health

  • Citation:

    Williamson HA Jr, Hart LG, Pirani MJ, Rosenblatt RA. Rural Hospital Inpatient Surgical Volume: Cutting-edge Service Or Operating On The Margin? J Rural Health. Nov 1994 10(1):16-25

  • Related Studies:

    Surgical Capacity of Rural Washington State Hospitals