CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Community hospitals in Tennessee are being bypassed frequently by those who live closest to them, as many residents instead seek care at larger facilities in more populated areas, a study by the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Institute found.

"In simple terms, almost half of the people in rural areas are not using the hospital closest to them, preferring to go to a larger, non-rural hospital to get care, even if the same services are available locally," states the issue brief, entitled Patterns of Care in Tennessee: Use of rural vs. non-rural facilities.

Read the study at http://www.bcbst.com/health-institute/IssueBrief-RuralHosp.pdf/ The BCBST Health Institute, formed in 2011, has released previous studies showing that the state faces a potential health care capacity crisis in the near future, so a logical next step was to examine actual patterns of care, according to Dr. Steven Coulter, president of the Institute.

"We hypothesized that geographic proximity to a health care facility would have a statistically significant influence on a patient’s ability to seek care," Coulter said. "That hypothesis proved to be false."

The issue brief does not reveal the reasons consumers are making these choices, but the results raise questions about the future viability of rural and small hospitals — results that those in the health care system, along with state and local policymakers, may wish to discuss.

The newly completed issue brief marks a milestone in the evolution of the BCBST Health Institute’s work to explore health care issues in Tennessee.

"In previous research, we’ve used publicly available data, but this marks the first time we’ve studied our own commercial claims data to identify patterns of health care," Coulter said. "It’s important to continue to use BlueCross data in this manner to the public’s benefit."

Previous research by the BCBST Health Institute took at look at the effect of federal health care reform on Tennessee, its effect on access to care for Tennessee’s minority population and its effect on prescription drug costs. Visit the Health Institute website to read about these topics.

About BlueCross

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee's mission is to provide its customers and communities with peace of mind through affordable solutions for health and healing, life and living. Founded in 1945, the Chattanooga-based company is focused on reinventing the health plan for its 3 million members in Tennessee and across the country. Through its integrated health management approach, BlueCross provides patient-centric products and services that drive health improvement and positively impact health care quality and value. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Inc. is an independent licensee of the BlueCross BlueShield Association. For more information, visit the company's website at www.bcbst.com.