The Influence of the Rural Transitions Nurse Program for Veterans on Healthcare Utilization Costs

J Gen Intern Med. 2022 Nov;37(14):3529-3534. doi: 10.1007/s11606-022-07401-y. Epub 2022 Aug 30.


Background: The Veterans Affairs (VA) Healthcare System Rural Transitions Nurse Program (TNP) addresses barriers veterans face when transitioning from urban tertiary VA hospitals to home. Previous clinical evaluations of TNP have shown that enrolled veterans were more likely to follow up with their primary care provider within 14 days of discharge and experience a significant reduction in mortality within 30 days compared to propensity-score matched controls.

Objective: Examine changes from pre- to post-hospitalization in total, inpatient, and outpatient 30-day healthcare utilization costs for TNP enrollees compared to controls.

Design: Quantitative analyses modeling the changes in cost via multivariable linear mixed-effects models to determine the association between TNP enrollment and changes in these costs.

Participants: Veterans meeting TNP eligibility criteria who were discharged home following an inpatient hospitalization at one of the 11 implementation sites from April 2017 to September 2019.

Intervention: The four-step TNP transitional care intervention.

Main measures: Changes in 30-day total, inpatient, and outpatient healthcare utilization costs were calculated for TNP enrollees and controls.

Key results: Among 3001 TNP enrollees and 6002 controls, no statistically significant difference in the change in total costs (p = 0.65, 95% CI: (- $675, $350)) was identified. However, on average, the increase in inpatient costs from pre- to post-hospitalization was approximately $549 less for TNP enrollees (p = 0.02, 95% CI: (- $856, - $246)). The average increase in outpatient costs from pre- to post-hospitalization was approximately $421 more for TNP enrollees compared to controls (p = 0.003, 95% CI: ($109, $671)).

Conclusions: Although we found no difference in change in total costs between veterans enrolled in TNP and controls, TNP was associated with a smaller increase in direct inpatient medical costs and a larger increase in direct outpatient medical costs. This suggests a shifting of costs from the inpatient to outpatient setting.

Keywords: Healthcare costs; Rural; Transitions of care; Veterans.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Rural Population
  • United States / epidemiology
  • United States Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Veterans*