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Ann Surg. 2009 Jun;249(6):1052-60. doi: 10.1097/SLA.0b013e3181a6cd57.

Characteristics of practice among rural and urban general surgeons in North Carolina.

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  • 1Cecil G Sheps Center for Health Services Research, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27599, USA.



To examine variation in the practice patterns of individual general surgeons and how they differ between rural and urban areas of North Carolina.


Traditional physician supply analyses often rely on "head counts" and do not take into account how physicians' practice patterns differ. Practice characteristics including the volume and the breadth of services that a physician provides may be especially important in understanding the supply and distribution of specialists, such as general surgeons.


Cross-sectional study using physician licensure data linked with administrative records on all inpatient hospital discharges and all surgeries performed at freestanding ambulatory surgery centers in North Carolina in 2004.


Total procedure volumes varied widely (interquartile range: 356-700). The average general surgeon in a rural county performed 54 different procedures at least once during the year, compared to 59 in counties with small urban areas and 62 in metropolitan counties. The 10 procedures that a general surgeon performed most frequently accounted for 72% of that surgeon's total annual procedures in rural counties, 67% in counties with small urban areas, and 66% in metropolitan counties. These rural metropolitan differences were smaller after controlling for secondary specialty and other surgeon characteristics.


There was significant variation in the volume and scope of procedures that North Carolina general surgeons performed in the year. Many general surgeons in metropolitan areas performed an array of procedures that was broader than those in rural areas.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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