Hospitals in rural settings face a different challenge in controlling readmission rates than urban hospitals do.
When rural hospitals don't have resources available to treat certain cases, they stabilize patients in order to transfer them to larger institutions with those resources. But if the patient is discharged and then develops complications, they might not return to the larger institution first.
“The problem is that the patient may in fact have problems and then be readmitted to that same rural hospital,” said Jan Probst, director emerita of the Rural and Minority Health Research Center at the University of South Carolina and one of the authors of a 2019 study that examined transfers and 30-day readmissions at rural hospitals.
“That’s where you get into the business of, ‘Hey, we send our patients off —they come back to the community too early, they need a readmit,’” she said.
The 2019 study, “The Importance of Rural Hospitals: Transfers and 30-day Readmissions Among Rural Residents and Patients Presenting at Rural Hospitals,” did find the 30-day readmission rate was lower for patients who initially went to a rural hospital, even though rural patients are transferred at a higher rate than those in urban settings.