Are Joint-Replacement Patients More at Risk in Rural Hospitals?

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for knee replacement.jpgRural hospitals are performing more joint-replacement surgeries. Unfortunately, it appears that patients are more likely to die following these surgeries at the smaller hospitals than patients at larger facilities.

What is a Critical-Access Hospital?

The smaller hospitals are called critical-access hospitals. They’re certified as such by the federal government based on several criteria, including:

· A rural location – no closer than 35 miles away from another healthcare facility

· Having no more than 25 inpatient beds

· Having an average patient stay of no more than 96 hours for acute inpatient care

Critical-access hospitals are eligible for higher Medicare payments than the standard fixed rates that larger hospitals receive. This offers financial incentives to smaller hospitals to provide needed care to those in less populated areas. The payment program began in 1997.

However, it’s come to light that this healthier reimbursement rate is driving rural hospitals to perform more elective surgeries. And a lack of experience at rural health facilities may be causing fatal medical mistakes during these procedures.

Some Patients at Rural Hospitals Face Higher Fatality Rates

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the number of joint-replacement surgeries rural hospitals performed increased more than 40 percent from 2008 to 2013.

Reviewing Medicare records from 2010 to 2013, the paper also found that rural hospital patients undergoing the five most common joint-replacement surgeries were 34 percent more likely to die within 30 days of the procedures compared to patients at larger hospitals.

The report said that, in 2013, the average critical-care access hospital performed 26 joint replacement surgeries per year, while large hospitals performed an average of 132 per year.

The evidence in this instance indicates the less experienced a hospital is at performing a type of surgery, the greater the chances for devastating patient outcomes. However, all doctors and all hospitals, regardless of experience, are expected to provide reasonable medical care.

If you were seriously injured or had a family member die due to a catastrophic medical error, an attorney experienced in conducting medical malpractice investigations can pursue your legal rights to just compensation for your losses.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertising.