Research: Association of Rural Residence With Surgical Outcomes Among Infants at US Children’s Hospitals

Hosp Pediatr

. 2023 Jul 20;e2023007227.

 doi: 10.1542/hpeds.2023-007227. Online ahead of print.

Association of Rural Residence With Surgical Outcomes Among Infants at US Children’s Hospitals

Christina Georgeades 1Jonathan Vacek 2Cary Thurm 3Matt Hall 3Shawn Rangel 4Peter C Minneci 5Keith Oldham 1Kyle J Van Arendonk 1

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Objectives: Disparities in pediatric health outcomes are widespread. It is unclear whether rurality negatively impacts outcomes of infants with surgical congenital diseases. This study compared outcomes of rural versus urban infants requiring complex surgical care at children’s hospitals in the United States.

Methods: Rural and urban infants (aged <1 year) receiving surgical care at children’s hospitals from 2016 to 2019 for esophageal atresia, gastroschisis, Hirschsprung’s disease, anorectal malformation, and congenital diaphragmatic hernia were compared over a 1-year postoperative period using the Pediatric Health Information System. Generalized linear mixed effects models compared outcomes of rural and urban infants.

Results: Among 5732 infants, 20.2% lived in rural areas. Rural infants were more frequently white, lived farther from the hospital, and lived in areas with lower median household income compared with urban infants (all P < .001). Rural infants with anorectal malformation and gastroschisis had lower adjusted hospital days over 1 year; rural infants with esophageal atresia had higher adjusted odds of 30-day hospital readmission. Adjusted mortality, hospital days, and readmissions were otherwise similar between the 2 groups. Outcomes remained similar when comparing urban infants to rural infant subgroups with the longest hospital travel distance (≥60 miles) and lowest median household income (<$35 000).

Conclusions: Despite longer travel distances and lower financial resources, rural infants with congenital anomalies have similar postoperative outcomes to urban infants when treated at children’s hospitals. Future work is needed to examine outcomes for infants treated outside children’s hospitals and to determine whether efforts are necessary to increase access to children’s hospitals.

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