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Isolated hospitals have higher patient mortality rates

Connecticut residents may not think about it often, but not every hospital is created equally. Some hospitals have more experienced and skilled staff members than others; some hospitals have more advanced equipment than others. But what you may not consider in terms of the quality of a hospital is its location.

The location of a hospital matters a great deal, according to a new study. Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the study looked at "critical access" hospitals: medical institutions that are geographically isolated. In other words, they are located in the countryside, or far away from major cities.

What the study found was astonishing. Critical access hospitals had an increasing patient fatality rate for nearly a decade; starting from 2002 and ending in 2010, the death rate increased roughly 0.1 percent per year, finishing with a patient mortality rate of 13.3 percent. Other hospitals, meanwhile, finished with an 11.3 patient mortality rate in 2010; and these hospitals saw declining patient fatality numbers over the same time frame.

Why is there such a drastic difference in patient mortality at these hospitals? There are a couple of theories. The first is that critical access hospitals may be dealing with older patients, who have retired or live in more secluded areas. As a result, the patients are less likely to survive a hospital trip. The other theory, though, is that these isolated hospitals lack the most up-to-date equipment, training and safety processes; and they are unlikely to attract top talent in the medical field. As a result, the patients suffer.

Ultimately, this is a cautionary tale -- a reminder that not ever hospital provides the best possible care. Sometimes, they slip beneath the expected standards; and that can cause patients immense harm. In such a scenario, the patient needs to consider his or her legal options.

Source: Kaiser Health News, "Death rates rise at geographically isolated hospitals, study finds," Jordan Rau, April 7, 2013

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