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Geographic variation in spatial accessibility of U.S. healthcare providers

Keith B. Naylor, Joshua Tootoo, Olga Yakusheva, Scott A. Shipman, Julie P. W. Bynum, Matthew A. Davis



Background - Growing physician maldistribution and population demographic shifts have contributed to large geographic variation in healthcare access and the emergence of advanced practice providers as contributors to the healthcare workforce. Current estimates of geographic accessibility of physicians and advanced practice providers rely on outdated “provider per capita” estimates that have shortcomings.

Purpose - To apply state of the art methods to estimate spatial accessibility of physician and non-physician clinician groups and to examine factors associated with higher accessibility.

Methods - We used a combination of provider location, medical claims, and U.S. Census data to perform a national study of health provider accessibility. The National Plan and Provider Enumeration System was used along with Medicare claims to identify providers actively caring for patients in 2014 including: primary care physicians (i.e., internal medicine and family medicine), specialists, nurse practitioners, and chiropractors. For each U.S. ZIP code tabulation area, we estimated provider accessibility using the Variable-distance Enhanced 2 step Floating Catchment Area method and performed a Getis-Ord Gi* analysis for each provider group. Generalized linear models were used to examine associations between population characteristics and provider accessibility.

Results - National spatial patterns of the provider groups differed considerably. Accessibility of internal medicine most resembled specialists with high accessibility in urban locales, whereas relative higher accessibility of family medicine physicians was concentrated in the upper Midwest. In our adjusted analyses independent factors associated with higher accessibility were very similar between internal medicine physicians and specialists–presence of a medical school in the county was associated with approximately 70% higher accessibility and higher accessibility was associated with urban locales. Nurse practitioners were similar to family medicine physicians with both having higher accessibility in rural locales.

Conclusions - The Variable-distance Enhanced 2 step Floating Catchment Area method is a viable approach to measure spatial accessibility at the national scale.

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Publication date: 
Tuesday, April 9, 2019