Study: Primary-care proximity equitable in city

Special to Western NewsLed by Western professor Jason Gilliland, a team of researchers looked at accessibility to a primary-care provider – either a family doctor or nurse practitioner – based on distribution and geographical proximity in London.

Proximity to primary health-care providers does not seem to be an issue for London’s most vulnerable populations, according to a Western-led study. These findings, researchers say, point to a system working well when it comes to geographic equity.

Led by Western professor Jason Gilliland, researchers looked at accessibility to a primary-care provider – either a family doctor or nurse practitioner – based on distribution and geographical proximity. They focused on accessibility for vulnerable populations, specifically seniors, lone-parents, and low-income households.

“We look at vulnerable populations specifically because health inequalities exist across Canada despite there being a universal health-care system, and those inequalities are experienced to a greater extent for vulnerable populations,” Gilliland explained.

The team discovered that accessibility to a primary-care provider was significantly greater in areas where there was a higher proportion of low-income households, seniors and lone-parents. Gilliland took that as a sign the current system in London is working well in striving for equity, not equality.

“There should be greater access for populations that have a higher need,” he said. “A low-income household, for example, is less likely to own a vehicle than a high-income household, and a senior is less likely to drive, so we want accessibility along geographic lines to be greater where low-income and senior populations live. That’s why geography matters.”

The team also analyzed the data along linguistic lines, aiming to better understand a patient’s access to a provider who spoke their native language. They looked specifically at French, Arabic and Spanish and determined that the Spanish-speaking households in London had slightly below-average accessibility to a provider who speaks Spanish.

“We hope that this data will help inform different strategies to improve accessibility for patients,” Gilliland said. “There are a lot of factors at play, but we hope this data will help the policy-makers, or even physicians who are looking to locate in a new area.”

The study – A geospatial approach to understanding inequalities in accessibility to primary care among vulnerable populations – was recently published in the journal PLOSone.