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Patient Migration Suggests Big Changes Await Rural Hospitals

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, September 12, 2012

There is no way to determine if the patient migration patterns identified in Tennessee apply in the same measure to other states. Geographically, Tennessee is long and narrow and surrounded by eight states with lots of potential for patient migration. And while Tennessee is mostly rural, the state's highway system is among the best in the nation. As a result, access to quality care in more-urban settings, both instate and across state lines, is readily available.

Still, it would not be unreasonable to suggest that the findings in Tennessee are somewhat applicable to rural hospitals in other states. After all, these migratory patterns are a function of consumer behavior and consumer behavior is not restricted to state lines.

In other words, if consumers have a choice and can go elsewhere, a certain percentage of them will exercise that choice.

Rural hospitals across the country would be wise to understand why patients in their service areas drive past the doors. Once the reasons for patient migration are understood, rural hospitals can determine which services best play to their home-field advantage.

When cost-effective point-of-service options are identified, a rural hospital can turn its remote location into a distinct competitive advantage.  


John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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