Years ago, all hospitals were primarily independent, but recently we’ve seen more consolidation in the healthcare industry. The consolidation has largely been driven by new economic realities, which have pressured hospitals and clinics to band together and create their own partnerships or merge with larger hospital systems, in order to survive.
Patients are being drawn out of smaller communities
Smaller, rural facilities are being significantly impacted by the consolidation trend as well. While creating or joining a larger organization generally results in more money to fund needed improvements and garner greater negotiating power, it may also be unintentionally promoting smaller, rural hospitals as urgent care facilities. One consequence is that patients tend to utilize their services for urgent care, but choose to continue any follow-up care at larger hospitals in nearby cities, and that’s creating a new level of competition.
Traveling outside of the community for all types of services has become less of an inconvenience and more of an accepted practice in today’s society. When a patient thinks about where they’ll receive the best care, a 60-90 minute car ride does not negatively impact their decision.
Many rural hospitals are banding together to form their own associations or networks. Others are independently fighting to hold onto their patients. They’re supplementing their services and employing state-of-the-art shared and mobile solutions that are cost-effective, reliable and customized to meet the facility’s needs.
Critical Access Hospital designation
In an effort to continue and improve the availability of essential healthcare services, and to reduce the financial vulnerability of providing those services to some of the rural communities, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CHS) designates some rural hospitals as “Critical Access Hospitals.” Through cost-based Medicare reimbursement, hospitals can true-up their costs at year-end to alleviate any deficit.
Every rural hospital cannot be designated as a Critical Access Hospital, however. There are eligibility requirements and restrictions that generally include:
- 25 or fewer acute care inpatient beds
- 35 or more miles between hospitals
- average stay of 96 hours or less for acute patients
- 24/7 emergency care services
Where do we go now?
It’s more important than ever for rural hospitals to offer core services, or even consider expanding the list of core services that they have offered in the past. They may not own the in-house equipment and employ the full-time staff needed to support the community, but that’s no longer a challenge that can’t be overcome. Providers like DMS Health are committed to providing cost-effective options to hospitals and patients through their mobile healthcare services. By helping to alleviate equipment shortages, outdated technology, and understaffed facilities, they are able to work with medical facilities and physician groups to overcome the challenges in order to deliver excellent patient care.