CONTEXT: Many small rural hospitals struggle to attract sufficient numbers of suitable patients. Inadequate patient throughput threatens the viability of these hospitals and, consequently, the financial, physical, and social well-being of the whole community. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many emergency ambulance patients are routinely taken past their local small rural hospital to the area's major receiving hospital. PURPOSE: To quantify the ambulance pass-by of local small rural hospitals and identify the factors that influence its occurrence. METHODS: Data were collected from the ambulance and hospital records of 3 small rural centers in central Victoria, Australia. RESULTS: Ambulances transport a significant number of patients past their local small rural hospitals to the area's major receiving hospital. This takes less time for paramedics than bringing a patient to the local hospital first if the patient is then redirected by that hospital to the larger hospital. There is an inverse relationship between the rate of cases in which the local hospital redirects ambulances to the regional hospital and the rate of ambulance crew decisions to use the local hospital. CONCLUSIONS: If some patients are being transported directly to the major receiving hospital because paramedics are considering their own time commitments when making patient transport decisions, this could have revenue implications for rural hospitals. Attracting appropriate local ambulance patients to the smaller hospitals may provide an income source that is currently lost to the crowded major receiving hospital's emergency department.