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Mergers improve care outcomes for rural hospitals, study finds

Mergers and acquisitions improved patient care outcomes for rural hospitals, a new study published in JAMA Network Open suggests.

For the case-control study, researchers affiliated with IBM Watson Health and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, analyzed data from 172 merged hospitals and 266 comparison hospitals that remained independent from 2009 to 2016. The researchers sought to understand the difference in patient mortality pre and post merger for common conditions.

Four things to know:

1. Overall, mortality rates dropped from 4.3 percent to 3.2 percent at rural hospitals that completed a merger.

2. For one common condition, acute myocardial infarctions, merged rural hospitals saw a bigger decrease in mortality rates. AMIs dropped by more than four percentage points post-merger, according to the study.

3. Researchers also found a significantly greater reduction in inpatient mortality for several other common conditions, such as heart failure, acute stroke and pneumonia, among patients admitted to rural hospitals involved in a merger or acquisition than among patients admitted to independent rural hospitals.

4. "The findings of this study regarding the positive outcomes associated with mergers in rural hospital quality challenge a common argument in prior research that hospital consolidation is likely to result in greater market power and higher prices but poorer quality," the study authors said. 

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