Bye-Bye Trauma Centers

A new study published in one of the top health policy journals, Health Affairs, provides a detailed overview of a worrisome trend: the closure of trauma care centers across the US. The study looked at the closure of these centers over a seven year period (2001 to 2007) and found that by the end of this period, 69 million Americans had to travel farther to the closest trauma center than they did at the start of the period.

Regarding rural America, this paragraph in the discussion section of the paper says it all:

Our findings reveal that rural communities have a higher risk of experiencing declines in geographic access than urban communities. This is troubling because, at baseline, residents in these areas already must travel farther to reach their nearest trauma center. As our results and prior studies demonstrate, rural communities suffer from a lack of generalist and specialist physician presence. These findings add to mounting evidence of a worsening of access to emergency care in rural areas. In fact, between 1990 and 1999, 11.3 percent of rural hospitals closed, while emergency visits to such hospitals rose more than 20 percent.

Still, a skeptic could rightly ask how the closure of these centers relates to patient outcomes, a relationship which this present study does not explore. Hopefully further research will explore that relationship. The article also does not include data since 2007. The article can be accessed here: http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/30/10/1912.abstract

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