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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Are Rural and Urban Emergency Departments Equally Prepared to Reduce Avoidable Hospitalizations?


Introduction: Attempts to reduce low-value hospital care often focus on emergency department (ED) hospitalizations. We compared rural and urban EDs in Michigan on resources designed to reduce avoidable admissions.

Methods: A cross-sectional, web-based survey was emailed to medical directors and/or nurse managers of the 135 hospital-based EDs in Michigan. Questions included presence of clinical pathways, services to reduce admissions, and barriers to connecting patients to outpatient services. We performed chi-squared comparisons, regression modeling, and predictive margins.

Results: Of 135 EDs, 64 (47%) responded with 33 in urban and 31 in rural counties. Clinical pathways were equally present in urban and rural EDs (67% vs 74%, p=0.5). Compared with urban EDs, rural EDs reported greater access to extended care facilities (21% vs 52%, p=0.02) but less access to observation units (52% vs 35%, p=0.04). Common barriers to connecting ED patients to outpatient services exist in both settings, including lack of social support (88% and 76%, p=0.20), and patient/family preference (68% and 68%, p=1.0). However, rural EDs were more likely to report time required for care coordination (88% vs 66%, p=0.05) and less likely to report limitations to home care (21% vs 48%, p=0.05) as barriers. In regression modeling, ED volume was predictive of the presence of clinical pathways rather than rurality.

Conclusion: While rural-urban differences in resources and barriers exist, ED size rather than rurality may be a more important indicator of ability to reduce avoidable hospitalizations.

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