China’s rapid transition in healthcare service system has posed considerable challenges for the primary care system. Little is known regarding the capacity of township hospitals (THs) to deliver surgical care in rural China with over 600 million lives. We aimed to ascertain its current performance, barriers, and summary lessons for its re-building in central China.
This study was conducted in four counties from two provinces in central China. The New Rural Cooperative Medical System (NRCMS) claim data from two counties in Hubei province was analyzed to describe the current situation of surgical care provision. Based on previous studies, self-administered questionnaire was established to collect key indicators from 60 THs from 2011 to 2015, and social and economic statuses of the sampling townships were collected from the local statistical yearbook. Semi-structured interviews were conducted among seven key administrators in the THs that did not provide appendectomy care in 2015. Determinants of appendectomy care provision were examined using a negative binominal regression model.
First, with the rapid increase in inpatient services provided by the THs, their proportion of surgical service provision has been nibbled by out-of-county facilities. Second, although DY achieved a stable performance, the total amount of appendectomy provided by the 60 THs decreased to 589 in 2015 from 1389 in 2011. Moreover, their proportion reduced to 26.77% in 2015 from 41.84% in 2012. Third, an increasing number of THs did not provide appendectomy in 2015, with the shortage of anesthesiologists and equipment as the most mentioned reasons (46.43%). Estimation results from the negative binomial model indicated that the annual average per capita disposable income and tightly integrated delivery networks (IDNs) negatively affected the amount of appendectomy provided by THs. By contrast, the probability of appendectomy provision by THs was increased by performance-related payment (PRP). Out-of-pocket (OOP) cost gap of appendectomy services between the two different levels of facilities, payment method, and the size of THs presented no observable improvement to the likelihood of appendectomy care in THs.
The county-level health system did not effectively respond to the continuously increasing surgical care need. The surgical capacity of THs declined with the surgical patterns’ simplistic and quantity reduction. Deficits and critical challenges for surgical capacity building in central China were identified, including shortage of human resources and medical equipment and increasing income. Moreover, tight IDNs do not temporarily achieve capacity building. Therefore, the reimbursement rate should be further ranged, and physicians should be incentivized appropriately. The administrators, policy makers, and medical staff of THs should be aware of these findings owing to the potential benefits for the capacity building of the rural healthcare system.