Objective: To compare surgical outcomes and expenditures at hospitals located in Health Professional Shortage Areas to nonshortage area designated hospitals among Medicare beneficiaries.
Background: More than a quarter of Americans live in federally designated Health Professional Shortage Areas. Although there is growing concern that medical outcomes may be worse, far less is known about hospitals providing surgical care in these areas.
Methods: Cross-sectional retrospective study from 2014 to 2018 of 842,787 Medicare beneficiary patient admissions to hospitals with and without Health Professional Shortage Area designations for common operations including appendectomy, cholecystectomy, colectomy, and hernia repair. We assessed risk-adjusted outcomes using multivariable logistic regression accounting for patient factors, admission type, and year were compared for each of the 4 operations. Hospital expenditures were price-standardized, risk-adjusted 30-day surgical episode payments. Primary outcome measures included 30-day mortality, hospital readmissions, and 30-day surgical episode payments.
Results: Patients (mean age=75.6 years, males=44.4%) undergoing common surgical procedures in shortage area hospitals were less likely to be White (84.6% vs 88.4%, P <0.001) and less likely to have≥2 Elixhauser comorbidities (75.5% vs 78.2%, P <0.001). Patients undergoing surgery at Health Professional Shortage Area hospitals had lower risk-adjusted rates of 30-day mortality (6.05% vs 6.69%, odds ratio=0.90, CI, 0.90-0.91, P <0.001) and readmission (14.99% vs 15.74%, odds ratio=0.94, CI, 0.94-0.95, P <0.001). Medicare expenditures at Health Professional Shortage Area hospitals were also lower than nonshortage designated hospitals ($28,517 vs $29,685, difference= -$1168, P <0.001).
Conclusions: Patients presenting to Health Professional Shortage Area hospitals obtain safe care for common surgical procedures without evidence of higher expenditures among Medicare beneficiaries. These findings should be taken into account as current legislative proposals to increase funding for care in these underserved communities are considered.
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