Primary Care Practice Management in Rural and Urban Veterans Health Administration Settings

Published in: The Journal of Rural Health, v. 18, no. 2, Spring 2002, p. 298-304

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2001

by William B. Weeks, Elizabeth Yano, Lisa V. Rubenstein

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Limited access to specialty care in rural settings may result in more expectations of primary care providers and a higher demand for primary care. The authors used survey and administrative data from 1999 from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to compare primary care practice management and performance in 19 rural to 103 urban VHA hospitals nationally. Rural VHA hospitals were smaller, less likely to be academically affiliated, and had fewer integrated specialty care services. Primary care providers in rural settings were more likely to manage specialty care services, provide continuity across patient care settings, and have complete responsibility for a broader range of services. However, rural hospitals had more staff per patient allocated to primary care than did urban hospitals. Patients in rural settings received comparable quality care to those in urban settings, and they appeared to be more satisfied with the care they received. Within the VHA system, primary care providers in rural settings provided a broader range of services than those in urban ones. This increased breadth may be attributable to the lack of availability of integrated specialty care services in rural settings. Because of this broader range of responsibilities, the provision of primary care in rural settings may require higher staffing patterns and may be inherently more costly than in urban settings; therefore, researchers should be cautious when comparing primary care expenditures across rural and urban settings.

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