New evidence on geographic disparities in United States hospital capacity

Health Serv Res. 2022 Oct;57(5):1006-1019. doi: 10.1111/1475-6773.14010. Epub 2022 Jun 7.


Objective: To characterize the quantity and quality of hospital capacity across the United States.

Data sources: We combine a 2017 near-census of US hospital inpatient discharges from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) with American Hospital Association Survey, Hospital Compare, and American Community Survey data.

Study design: This study produces local hospital capacity quantity and care quality measures by allocating capacity to zip codes using market shares and population totals. Disparities in these measures are examined by race and ethnicity, income, age, and urbanicity.

Data collection/extraction methods: All data are derived from pre-existing sources. All hospitals and zip codes in states, including the District of Columbia, contributing complete data to HCUP in 2017 are included.

Principal findings: Non-Hispanic Black individuals living in zip codes supplied, on average, 0.11 more beds per 1000 population (SE = 0.01) than places where non-Hispanic White individuals live. However, the hospitals supplying this capacity have 0.36 fewer staff per bed (SE = 0.03) and perform worse on many care quality measures. Zip codes in the most urban parts of America have the least hospital capacity (2.11 beds per 1000 persons; SEM = 0.01) from across the rural-urban continuum. While more rural areas have markedly higher capacity levels, urban areas have advantages in staff and capital per bed. We do not find systematic differences in care quality between rural and urban areas.

Conclusions: This study highlights the importance of lower hospital care quality and resource intensity in driving racial and ethnic, as well as income, disparities in hospital care-related outcomes. This study also contributes an alternative approach for measuring local hospital capacity that accounts for cross-hospital service area flows. Adjusting for these flows is necessary to avoid underestimating the supply of capacity in rural areas and overestimating it in places where non-Hispanic Black individuals tend to live.

Keywords: capacity; disparities; geographic disparities; hospital bed capacity; hospital quality; quality indicators; quality of care.

MeSH terms

  • Black or African American*
  • Ethnicity
  • Healthcare Disparities
  • Hospitals
  • Humans
  • Rural Population
  • United States
  • White People*