Development and Evaluation of Rehabilitation Service Areas for the United States

Timothy A. Reistetter, Julianna M. Dean, Allen M. Haas, John D. Prochaska, Daniel C. Jupiter, Karl Eschbach, Yong Fang Kuo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Geographic areas have been developed for many healthcare sectors including acute and primary care. These areas aid in understanding health care supply, use, and outcomes. However, little attention has been given to developing similar geographic tools for understanding rehabilitation in post-acute care. The purpose of this study was to develop and characterize post-acute care Rehabilitation Service Areas (RSAs) in the United States (US) that reflect rehabilitation use by Medicare beneficiaries. Methods: A patient origin study was conducted to cluster beneficiary ZIP (Zone Improvement Plan) code tabulation areas (ZCTAs) with providers who service those areas using Ward’s clustering method. We used US national Medicare claims data for 2013 to 2015 for beneficiaries discharged from an acute care hospital to an inpatient rehabilitation facility (IRF), skilled nursing facility (SNF), long-term care hospital (LTCH), or home health agency (HHA). Medicare is a US health insurance program primarily for older adults. The study population included patient records across all diagnostic groups. We used IRF, SNF, LTCH and HHA services to create the RSAs. We used 2013 and 2014 data (n = 2,730,366) to develop the RSAs and 2015 data (n = 1,118,936) to evaluate stability. We described the RSAs by provider type availability, population, and traveling patterns among beneficiaries. Results: The method resulted in 1,711 discrete RSAs. 38.7% of these RSAs had IRFs, 16.1% had LTCHs, and 99.7% had SNFs. The number of RSAs varied across states; some had fewer than 10 while others had greater than 70. Overall, 21.9% of beneficiaries traveled from the RSA where they resided to another RSA for care. Conclusions: Rehabilitation Service Areas are a new tool for the measurement and understanding of post-acute care utilization, resources, quality, and outcomes. These areas provide policy makers, researchers, and administrators with small-area boundaries to assess access, supply, demand, and understanding of financing to improve practice and policy for post-acute care in the US.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number204
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023


  • Geographic variation
  • Medicare
  • Post-acute care
  • Small-area variation
  • Ward’s clustering method

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy


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