Necessary Conditions for Supporting a General Surgeon in Rural Areas

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Loss of a general surgeon in a rural community can alter the referral patterns, the image and utilization of the local hospital, and even the market share of local primary care physicians. Prior research has not defined the necessary and/or sufficient conditions for a rural county to be able to support a local general surgeon. Based upon empirical analysis of 96 rural Missouri counties and the limited literature available on rural surgeons and physician referral rates, a first approximation of those conditions are offered. We conclude that a rural county with a hospital, a population base of more than 15,000 people, and at least 11 potential referring physicians has sufficient conditions to enable it to support a local general surgeon. Among those rural Missouri counties not meeting the above conditions but having a general surgeon in 1984, we estimate that 8 to 10 potential referring physicians appear to be the minimum necessary condition for supporting a rural general surgeon through patient referral. From those conclusions, we argue that any rural hospital currently without a surgeon should re-examine its situation. To prepare for a competitive future, such a hospital should take every opportunity to expand the referral base necessary to support a full-time local surgeon rather than place long-term reliance upon itinerant general surgeons.



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