Rural and urban physicians: does the content of their Medicare practices differ?

J Rural Health. 1999 Spring;15(2):240-51. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-0361.1999.tb00745.x.


Rural and urban areas have significant differences in the availability of medical technology, medical practice structures and patient populations. This study uses 1994 Medicare claims data to examine whether these differences are associated with variation in the content of practice between physicians practicing in rural and urban areas. This study compared the number of patients, outpatient visits, and inpatient visits per physician in the different specialties, diagnosis clusters, patient age and sex, and procedure frequency and type for board-certified rural and urban physicians in 12 ambulatory medical specialties. Overall, 14.4 percent of physicians in the 12 specialties practiced exclusively in rural Washington, with great variation by specialty. Rural physicians were older and less likely to be female than urban physicians. Rural physicians saw larger numbers of elderly patients and had higher volumes of outpatient visits than their urban counterparts. For all specialty groups except general surgeons and obstetrician-gynecologists, the diagnostic scope of practice was specialty-specific and similar for rural and urban physicians. Rural general surgeons had more visits for gastrointestinal disorders, while rural obstetrician-gynecologists had more visits out of their specialty domain (e.g., hypertension, diabetes) than their urban counterparts. The scope of procedures for rural and urban physicians in most specialties showed more similarities than differences. While the fund of knowledge and outpatient procedural training needed by most rural and urban practitioners to care for the elderly is similar, rural general surgeons and obstetrician-gynecologists need training outside their traditional specialty areas to optimally care for their patients.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Humans
  • Medicare Assignment / statistics & numerical data*
  • Medicine / statistics & numerical data
  • Office Visits / statistics & numerical data
  • Physicians / classification*
  • Physicians / statistics & numerical data
  • Rural Health Services / economics
  • Rural Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Specialization
  • United States
  • Urban Health Services / economics
  • Urban Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Washington
  • Workforce