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Rural Hospital Systems: Inevitable Changes and Improved Patient Access

Despite relative financial stability, many rural hospitals are planning for the future health needs of their patients and communities by choosing to merge into larger regional health systems. This significant change seeks to improve patient care through expanded services such as electronic medical records and improved physician recruiting opportunities in rural hospitals. Such mergers are providing hospital systems with structures that save money on overhead and equipment, as well as more fluid patient access to specialty care providers and resources.

A significant concern of the communities and the hospital staff members is that these mergers will result in a loss of control relating to major hospital decisions in a given community and create a more bureaucratic system as a result of the expanded footprint of the organization. For this reason many individual hospitals are working hard to ensure that extra efforts are made to maintain a sense of dependability in the level of care patients have come to expect from their small community hospitals.

The end result of these actions will be fewer independent hospitals in any given state or community. While this change will require that patients and providers make some changes to their familiar medical routines, it is likely that this change will result in greater access to care, improved hospital resources and ultimately healthier populations in rural communities.

For more information on the changing rural community health care in Minnesota, please see the MPR podcast and transcript available at:
http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2012/09/14/ground-level-rural-health-consolidation/