In the United States, there are nearly 1,400 Health Resources and Services Administration-funded health centers (HCs) serving low-income and underserved populations and more than 600 of these HCs are located in rural areas. Disparities in quality of medical care in urban vs. rural areas exist but data on such differences between urban and rural HCs is limited in the literature. We examined whether urban and rural HCs differed in their performance on clinical quality measures before and after controlling for patient, organizational, and contextual characteristics.
We used the 2017 Uniform Data System to examine performance on clinical quality measures between urban and rural HCs (n = 1,373). We used generalized linear regression models with the logit link function and binomial distribution, controlling for confounding factors. After adjusting for potential confounders, we found on par performance between urban and rural HCs in all but one clinical quality measure. Rural HCs had lower rates of linking patients newly diagnosed with HIV to care (74% [95% CI: 69%, 80%] vs. 83% [95% CI: 80%, 86%]). We identified control variables that systematically accounted for eliminating urban vs. rural differences in performance on clinical quality measures. We also found that both urban and rural HCs had some clinical quality performance measures that were lower than available national benchmarks. Main limitations included potential discrepancy of urban or rural designation across all HC sites within a HC organization.
Findings highlight HCs’ contributions in addressing rural disparities in quality of care and identify opportunities for improvement. Performance in both rural and urban HCs may be improved by supporting programs that increase the availability of providers, training, and provision of technical resources.