Access to quality hospital care is a persistent problem for rural patients. Little is known about disparities between rural and urban populations regarding in-hospital outcomes for end-stage liver disease (ESLD) patients. We aimed to determine whether rural ESLD patients experienced higher in-hospital mortality than urban patients and whether disparities were attributable to the rurality of the patient or the center. This was a retrospective study of patient admissions in the National Inpatient Sample, a population-based sample of hospitals in the United States. Admissions were included if they were from adult patients who had an ESLD-related admission defined by codes from the International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, between January 2012 and December 2014. The primary exposures of interest were patient-level rurality and hospital-level rurality. The main outcome was in-hospital mortality. We stratified our analysis by disease severity score. After accounting for patient- and hospital-level covariates, ESLD admissions to rural hospitals in every category of disease severity had significantly higher odds of in-hospital mortality than patient admissions to urban hospitals. Those with moderate or major risk of dying had more than twice the odds of in-hospital mortality (odds ratio [OR] for moderate risk, 2.41; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.62-3.59; OR for major risk, 2.49; 95% CI, 1.97-3.14). There was no association between patient-level rurality and mortality in the adjusted models. In conclusion, ESLD patients admitted to rural hospitals had increased odds of in-hospital mortality compared with those admitted to urban hospitals, and the differences were not attributable to patient-level rurality. Our results suggest that interventions to improve outcomes in this population should focus on the level of the health system.
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