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Mapping Access to Primary Health Care
June 27, 2016

Did you know that the city or neighbourhood you live in can impact your access to primary health care such as family physicians, nurse practitioners and physiotherapists?

In Canada, there is a growing concern that the primary health care system is not as responsive as it could be in certain geographic areas with some communities not having the same access to a range of primary health care professionals. For example, physician to population ratio in Winnipeg is 0.8 per 1,000 people while Victoria is 1.5 per 1,000 people.

“Being in Victoria you have a certain advantage,” says Dr. Tayyab Shah, researcher at the University of Saskatchewan. “You have double availability as compared to Winnipeg.”

Variances in access and availability are also apparent depending on the neighbourhood in which you live. In some cases, people who can’t find a family doctor in close proximity to their neighbourhood will rely on walk-in clinics and emergency rooms more often than their family physicians. This limits the continuity of care given to people, which doesn’t always result in the best level of care provided. Ultimately, these differences in access to health services have negative consequences for best meeting the health needs of all Canadians.

Access to primary health care services is a considerable health delivery concern across Canada having important health policy implications yet relatively unstudied in the context of local geographic scales.

Dr. Shah was recently awarded a Research Fellowship Grant from SHRF to investigate the availability and geographic accessibility to family doctors, nurse practitioners and physiotherapists in all three Prairie provinces (i.e. Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta). His background is in human geography and quantitative social research with an interest in analyzing geographical access to health care services and to food sources, locating health services and facilities mapping. Dr. Shah’s postdoctoral fellowship is under the supervision of Dr. Stephan Milosavljevic and Dr. Brenna Bath in the School of Physical Therapy, College of Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan.

“It is important to know what the actual gaps are compared to the population health care needs,” says Dr. Shah. “We need to identify the under-served or poorly served communities, and where they are geographically.”

By mapping service delivery at both health region and municipality levels, Dr. Shah will be able to identify the accessibility of primary health care compared to other neighbouring provinces and in rural and remote areas. The results in Saskatchewan will be compared with Alberta and Manitoba to see whether there is variation across provinces based on different provincial health policies. The results of this study will identify primary health care patterns and any under-served or poorly served populations in the Prairie provinces. It will assist health care managers and policy makers to understand the distribution of existing key primary health care personnel resources.

By noting differences in geographic accessibility to health services, this study will suggest several courses of action to help strengthen primary health care in Saskatchewan and better meet the health needs of everyone, regardless of where they live.

This and other stories of health research that impact your life are featured in the latest issue of Research for Health.

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