Are Small, Rural Hospitals Putting Patients at Risk?

A 2015 Wall Street Journal study of small, rural hospitals found that these facilities are putting patients at risk by providing surgical services that they are not competent in for financial gain. The outcomes of this medical malpractice are serious complications, hospital-based infections, and even death for some patients.

Rural Hospital Closures

Most rural hospitals are located in the South and Midwest and handle older patients. Many are on the brink of closing due to significant financial constraints. Some may merge with bigger hospitals or other neighboring rural facilities to remain in operation. Despite that, hundreds of rural hospitals have had to shut their doors since 2010.

One of the reasons these facilities are facing financial challenges is dwindling populations in rural areas, translating to fewer patients occupying hospital beds. While populations in urban centers have been growing since 2000, those in rural neighborhoods have declined.

Dwindling populations also worsen other dangers to rural facilities’ finances. For instance, the demand for outpatient services is higher than that for inpatient services. While rural hospitals do have outpatient sections, they compete for patients with nonhospital outpatient facilities and clinics.

High Risk of Death in Small, Rural Hospitals

Billing records reveal that these rural facilities are doing inpatient orthopedic surgeries more frequently. Surprisingly, the growth rate of these procedures in rural hospitals is higher than that of more general medical centers that have performed these surgeries for decades.

This means that an otherwise ordinary procedure that should involve little or no complications could potentially cause death because it was done at the ‘wrong’ medical facility. Patients undergoing one of the routine orthopedic procedures at small, rural hospitals had a 34% risk of dying within a month between 2010 and 2013. If a medical practitioner exacerbates severe car accident injuries during treatment, a victim may sue him or her for medical negligence and file a separate personal injury claim against the person responsible for the car accident with the help of an attorney.

Why Elective Orthopedic Surgeries Have Increased in Rural Hospitals

A 1997 program designed to help rural medical facilities keep running by offering them higher financial incentives for orthopedic surgeries than their larger counterparts has contributed to the rise of these kinds of surgeries in rural hospitals. Although some of the smaller medical facilities insist that they will improve with time as they perform more surgeries, the death rates have remained high.

Getting Legal Help

When a patient receives substandard medical care, he or she can file a medical negligence lawsuit against the responsible person or entity. A medical facility shouldn’t perform a specific procedure unless it has the required qualifications and equipment. For instance, if a patient had complications during delivery that resulted in a birth injury due to medical care that was below the required standards, an injury attorney can review the situation and advise her on the best legal option for the family. The attorney will also gather enough facts to develop a strong legal case, negotiate a fair settlement with an insurance company, and file a lawsuit on the patient’s behalf if necessary.