Multi-method assessment of access to primary medical care in rural Colorado

J Rural Health. 1999 Winter;15(1):113-21. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-0361.1999.tb00605.x.


The objectives of this study include conducting an analysis of access to primary medical care in rural Colorado through simultaneous consideration of primary care physician-to-population and distance-to-nearest provider indices. Analyses examined the potential development and implications of excessively large, perhaps unmanageable patient caseloads that might result from every rural Coloradoan's exclusive use of the nearest generalist physician as a regular source of care. Using American Medical Association Physician Masterfile data for 1995 and coordinates for latitude and longitude from U.S. Census files (Census of Population and Housing, 1990), the authors calculated distance to the nearest primary care physician for residents of each of the 1,317 block groups in Colorado's 52 rural counties. Caseloads for each generalist physician were computed assuming the population used the nearest provider for care. Straight-line mileage to primary medical care was modest for rural Coloradoans--a median distance of 2.5 miles. Almost two-thirds (65 percent) of the population resided within 5 miles, and virtually all residents (99 percent) were within 30 miles of a generalist physician. However, had everyone traveled the shortest possible distance to care, demand for service from many of the 343 primary care doctors in rural regions of the state would have been overwhelming. The results of simultaneous application of distance-to-care and provider-to-population techniques unrestricted by geographic boundaries depict access to primary medical care and corresponding consumer difficulty more fully than in previous studies. Further combination of methods of needs assessment such as those used in this analysis may better inform the future efforts of organizations mandated to address health care underservice in rural areas.

MeSH terms

  • Colorado
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Health Services Accessibility / standards*
  • Health Services Research / methods
  • Humans
  • Physicians, Family / statistics & numerical data*
  • Physicians, Family / supply & distribution*
  • Population Density
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data*
  • Professional Practice Location / statistics & numerical data*
  • Rural Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Travel*
  • Workforce
  • Workload