• access to care;
  • orthopedic surgery;
  • physician supply;
  • rural hospitals


Rural American residents prefer to receive their medical care locally. Lack of specific medical services in the local community necessitates travel to a larger center which is less favorable. This study was done to identify how rural hospitals choose to provide orthopedic surgical services to their communities.

Methods: All hospitals in 5 states located in communities that met the criteria for a rural town according to the Rural Urban Commuting Area codes were included. A survey with topics including community and hospital demographics, orthopedic surgical workforce and demand, surgical services, and the perceived benefit of orthopedic services was sent to the hospital administrators.

Results: Of the 223 rural hospitals surveyed, 145 completed the survey. Of those completing the survey, 30% had at least one full-time orthopedic surgeon, 25% did not provide any orthopedic surgical services, 65% never had an orthopedic surgeon on ER call, 33% were recruiting an orthopedic surgeon, 52% stated that it is more difficult to recruit an orthopedic surgeon vs a general surgeon, and 71% of the administrators acknowledged a need for additional orthopedic surgical services in their community. For those hospitals that did not have a full-time orthopedic surgeon, members of those communities traveled a mean distance of 55 miles for emergency orthopedic surgical care as reported by the hospital administrators.

Conclusions: There are many rural communities that have limited access to orthopedic surgical services. While many of the rural hospital administrators feel that there is a need for additional orthopedic surgical services in their communities, it is difficult to recruit orthopedic surgeons to these areas.