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Why Rural EDs Are Struggling to Survive

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media, June 29, 2011

For rural hospital executives, hearing stats about struggling EDs is nothing new. But a recent statistical brief from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality shines a light on just how wide the gap is between rural and non-rural EDs.

According to Carol Stocks, program analyst for AHRQ and one of the research brief's co-authors, the data may help CMS, HHS, and private payers to see that rural hospitals play an important role for patients, but need adequate compensation to keep their EDs running.

For starters, while non-rural EDs are often a gateway to revenue-generating admissions, AHRQ found that only 8.3% of rural ED visits resulted in hospital admissions, compared to 16% of non-rural ED visits.

"[The] initial guess is that a number of patients are being referred," Stocks said, adding that this finding is one that will likely garner closer attention.
Another finding shows the prevalence of low occupancy rates in rural hospitals.

"Rural hospitals tend to run much lower occupancy rates than the non-rural hospitals, and that has an important impact on their viability," Stocks said in an interview.
Sandra Schneider, MD, has witnessed these findings in real life as she's traveled to hospitals around the country as president of the American College of Emergency Physicians.

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