Previous reviews of the status of rural hospitals conclude that rural hospitals play a major role in ensuring the provision of health services in rural areas, are an essential part of the social and economic identity of rural communities, have had mixed success in their ability to respond to environmental threats, and are very sensitive to public policies due, in part, to their small size. The evolving hospital paradigm in the United States and a turbulent economic and health care environment have created an uncertain future for the rural hospital. Hospitals are being forced to shift their emphasis from filling acute inpatient care beds to providing a more diversified set of services through linkages with other institutions and provider groups. This presents challenges for rural hospitals, which often serve as the foundation for health care delivery in rural communities yet struggle to overcome the effects of troubled local economies, shortages of health professionals, and public policy inequities. This article reviews key trends and challenges facing rural hospitals from the perspective of their structure and organization, financial sustainability, quality of care provided, and strategic linkages with other entities.
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