Lung Cancer Surgical Regionalization Disproportionately Worsens Travel Distance for Rural Patients

Lung Cancer

Herb JN, et al. J Rural Health 2020.


PURPOSE: Major cancer surgeries have regionalized to fewer and higher-volume hospitals, with the goal of improving the quality of surgical care. However, regionalization may have negative effects on geographic access to care. We hypothesize that lung cancer patients have been traveling further for surgery over time as regionalization has occurred, and this increased travel has primarily impacted rural patients.

METHODS: A North Carolina all-payer state discharge database was used to capture discharges from 2005 to 2015 for patients undergoing lung cancer resection. Changes in patterns of care over time in high-volume centers (HVC) were examined. Adjusted patient straight-line travel distance was estimated over time and stratified by rural-urban location.

FINDINGS: The number of hospitals performing lung cancer resections decreased from 49 to 31 over the study period (P = .0006), and the proportion of patients receiving care at HVC increased from 23% to 44% (P < .0001). Rural patient travel distance increased over time by 8.5 miles (95% CI: 0.56-17.10, P = .048), from 45.1 to 53.6 miles. There was no change in urban patient travel distance. The difference in adjusted travel distance between rural and urban patients nearly doubled from 2005 to 2015 (9.6 to 17.9 miles,P < .0001).

CONCLUSION: In North Carolina, lung cancer surgical regionalization occurred over the study period and was accompanied by increases in travel distance for rural patients only. Further work is needed to determine the effects of greater travel distance on patterns of cancer care for rural patients.