Rural communities experience significant barriers to quality healthcare, including disparities in medical care following acute myocardial infarctions (AMI). This study sought to determine if the population density of the county where Medicare patients were hospitalized following AMI predicted short-term outcomes and to quantify longitudinal changes in hospital performance on quality of care metrics.
Hospital-level data was queried from the 2012 and 2018 Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services archives. Each hospital was classified based on residing county using the National Center for Health Statistics Rural-Urban Continuum Codes (RUCC). Variations and longitudinal changes in risk-adjusted outcomes and quality of care metrics were stratified by RUCC classification and analyzed.
Among the 4798 hospitals identified, rural hospitals had significantly higher risk-adjusted 30-day mortality (rs = 0.095, p < 0.001) and decreased statin prescribed at discharge (rs = -0.066, p = 0.004). Only aspirin (R2 = 0.003, p = 0.024) and statin (R2 = 0.006, p = 0.001) prescribed at discharge were correlated with improved 30-day mortality. Despite these differences, from 2012 to 2018 the performance gap between rural and urban hospitals narrowed for all but one quality of care metric, with concurrent 1.83% [95% CI 1.76-1.90] and 3.37% [95% CI 3.30-3.44] reductions in mortality and hospital readmissions, respectively.
In the United States, only modest variations currently exist between rural and urban hospitals in the medical care of AMI. Although the performance gap has narrowed, new strategies to improve timely and effective care are necessary to alleviate residual cardiovascular healthcare disparities in rural communities.